Dr. Julian Lewis
: Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a third possible reason why the IRA might be reluctant to dismantle its paramilitary structures? That
31 Oct 2005 : Column 639
is its record of criminal activity, which amounts to a mafia-type operation involving the robbing of banks and many other activities that it would be loth to give up, even if it has called off the political war.
Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is undoubtedly right. Republican and loyalist paramilitary groups use crime as a means of financing their organisations and providing a livelihood for large numbers of activists, and as a meansthrough protection rackets and the likeof imposing their control and their rule over republican or loyalist estates, rather than submitting to the rule of law, which is what we would expect any democratic political movement to do.
Rev. Ian Paisley: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best test to which the IRA could be put would be to ask it to give up its ill-gotten gains, and to give back the money that it stole from the bank, to prove to the people that it had quit its criminality?
Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is right. Although I have genuinely welcomed the statements and actions that have come from the provisional republican movement over the past few months, I cannot drive out of my mind either the fact that those same republicans were talking a year ago about a comprehensive political agreement for Northern Ireland while planning the Northern bank raid. In addition, earlier this year, we had that appalling murder in the centre of Belfast, in which it seems that the forensic clean-up operation was carried out by people who had knowledge of what needed to be done to stop the police having any clues as to the perpetrators. Certainly, a great deal of comment has come from people living in that area to the effect that known members of the Provisional IRA were behind that clean-up operation. Of course, people in that republican bar who witnessed the murder have been very reluctant to come forward, and I have yet to hear the leaders of provisional Sinn Fein urge their supporters who have information about murder or other serious crime to come forward with that to the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the courts so that people can be brought to justice.
Rev. Ian Paisley: It should also be underlined that the family is now driven out of the area completely. The last member of a family who have been there for something like 200 years has now moved out.
Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman is again right. The fact that members of the McCartney family have had to move house because of the brave public stand that they took offers its own eloquent comment that, as yet, we are very far from a normal state of affairs in Northern Ireland.
We require a profound ideological change from an organisation that regards itself, as the IRA's constitution asserts, as the legitimate government of Ireland, both
31 Oct 2005 : Column 640
north and south, to show that it has become a genuinely democratic organisation that supports the police and upholds the rule of law. I have no problem with debating or fighting elections against a democratic movement that loathes the partition of Ireland and yearns for a united Irish republic, provided that that body accepts the principle that constitutional change can come only through the free consent of the people, and works within the constitutional structures of Northern Ireland, within the rule of law, in order to achieve its objectives.
For the purposes of this argument, let us be optimisticlet us lay the scepticism to one side and assume that the Provisional IRA completes that transition from terrorism to democracy. What, then, would be the situation in 2007 or 2008? We have seen little concrete evidence yet that the major loyalist paramilitaries are about to cease their violence, intimidation or involvement in crime. We know, too, that dissident republicans remain a serious threat. The independent assessor of military complaints procedures, in his report for 2004, listed 44 serious incidents attributed to republican dissidents, and only weeks ago we saw a vicious attack on the deputy chairman of the Policing Board, leaving that brave man with severe injuries as a consequence. I find it impossible to believe, even on the most optimistic assumptions that we can make this afternoon, that by 2008 we will be in a position in which none of the part VII powers continue to be needed. As Lord Carlile put it in his most recent report, at paragraph 2.9:
If we are trying to ensure that we have in place a system of criminal justice procedure that gives law-abiding citizens the courage to come forward with information and not to fear retaliation, we need to be aware that that fear of paramilitaries remains acute.
The Northern Ireland Office's most recent statistical bulletin, number 11/2005, showed that no fewer than 40 per cent. of people interviewed said that they were unlikely to report someone if they knew that that person had been involved in serious crime. We all know the reasons for that reluctance. It is not sympathy for the criminals. It is fear. It is terror of retaliation against oneself or one's family.
So what will happen in 2007 or 2008? The Secretary of State said that he is still considering possible options. He has known for a long time, as did his predecessor, that part VII would have to be replaced by February 2006, so I suspect that a review of some sort must have taken place in the Northern Ireland Office. I wonder whether, sitting in a pending tray at Hillsborough, there are revised proposals that are ready to be made if and when that proves necessary, or do the Government have in mind relying on powers incorporated into United
31 Oct 2005 : Column 641
Kingdom counter-terrorist and criminal justice legislation? For example, does the Secretary of State expect the powers in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that allow for non-jury trials in cases of possible jury tampering to be applied after 2007 or 2008 to Northern Ireland for the sort of cases that we have been debating?
Lady Hermon : Since the hon. Gentleman's party has shown a notable reluctance in the House to support any Government legislation that removes juries from trials, can he confirm for the record that, if the Secretary of State were to opt for that, he and his colleagues would fully support the use of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland under the procedures already available in Northern Irelandthey came into force last yearunder the Criminal Justice Act 2003?
Mr. Lidington: I see no problem in principle with that. The position of my party has always been that we regard jury trial in all parts of the United Kingdom as an important liberty that we would wish to see suspended only in the most exceptional circumstances, which was why, throughout the duration of emergency powers legislation, those powers were subject to regular renewal by Parliament. We have taken issue with the Government over recent counter-terrorist legislation that proposed removing the right of trial by jury not for fear that the jury would be tampered with or subject to intimidation, but for other reasons that they gave to justify that.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): You highlighted some of the things that the Government could be doing and I was interested in your remarks about the understandable and shared concern about terrorism in Northern Ireland. Are you saying[Interruption.]
Meg Hillier: Forgive me, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, in an ideal world, his party would prefer to see a further extension of the part VII measures for a longer period than until 2008?
Mr. Lidington: We should extend the powers if that is necessary to provide the protection that is needed by the people of Northern Ireland against intimidation and violence. I endorse completely the Secretary of State's comments that defending the right of the people of Northern Ireland to live secure lives, free from threat, should be the first priority of any Government and any legislation. The combination of time limits, the requirement for regular parliamentary renewal of powers and the certificating-out procedure has provided flexibility in the application of these powers to particular cases. The Secretary of State said that we have seen a steady reduction in the number of cases in which it was considered necessary and appropriate to have the case tried before a judge sitting alone.
Clearly, I want to see the day when Northern Ireland can do without any emergency powers of this nature. However, after 30 years of terrorism, during which the
31 Oct 2005 : Column 642
terrorist organisations have become so entrenched in the life of Northern Ireland, we must not jump too easily or rapidly to the conclusion that we will be able to dispense with emergency powers quickly.