|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Constant reference is being made to violence on the loyalist side over the summerit is quite right that that should be deplored. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that there was also vicious violence on the part of republicans against the police, with the use of blast bombs and other lethal attacks over the summer period, not least at
31 Oct 2005 : Column 649
Ardoyne on 12 July. Hon. Members should bear that in mind and recognise that there has been violence on both sides.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman is completely right to put that on record. People who live on the mainland of the United Kingdom sometimes do not recognise that an underlying level of violence continues in republican and loyalist communities. Normalisation in the Province cannot simply be achieved by violence disappearing from news reports. Violence must disappear on the ground in the Province and true lawful behaviour must be introduced.
The Ulster Defence Association has, however, at least continued its talks with the Decommissioning Commission. But perhaps the most significant development took place this morning, when the Loyalist Volunteer Force announced its intention to stand down. As we have already heard, the feud between the Ulster Volunteer Force and the LVF has had a devastating effect on the loyalist community. What will matter, once again, will be the Independent Monitoring Commission report in January on whether LVF violence has indeed come to an end.
I shall move on to the details of the Bill. I am pleased that over the past five years the Government have largely accepted the recommendations put forward in the annual reports written by my noble Friend Lord Carlile of Berriew.
I am especially pleased that the Government do not wish to resurrect sections 70 and 71 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which were repealed earlier this year. Those provisions allowed the Secretary of State to make directions for young persons charged with a scheduled offence to be held in adult prisons while on remand. The powers come from a time when young persons were held in remand homes. Those homes were insecure and serious problems were presented in the management of some of their remand population. Thankfully, there have been great advances in the youth justice system in Northern Ireland over recent years and Hydebank young offenders centre and the juvenile justice centre are now able to provide the security required. Those developments are welcome and the Government are right to ensure that those sections do not return to the statute book.
Lord Carlile raised worries about section 108 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in his 2004 report on the operation of part VII of the Act. That section makes provisions on evidence that may lead a court to conclude that a section 11 offencemembership of a proscribed organisationhas been committed. Subsections (2) and (3) of section 108 render admissible under a section 11 charge hearsay evidence that would not otherwise be admissible. The evidence must be given orally by a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent. If it is the opinion of that officer that the accused belongs to an organisation that is specified, the statement "shall be admissible" as evidence of the matter stated.
"I am totally unpersuaded by the arguments for its retention . . . Section 108 could be repealed without any measurable disadvantage to the cause of public protection from terrorism. It is a provision that lies uncomfortably in the broader context of normalisation and the Good Friday Agreement."
Rev. Ian Paisley: Would it not be right to underline the fact that the provision was copied from the law in the south of Ireland, where it still exists and a police officer can give such evidence in court?
Lembit Öpik: If I were a parliamentary representative in the south of Ireland, I would be making exactly the same point. The provision simply does not stand up to scrutiny both of its practical benefit, on which Lord Carlile has commented, and of its principle of diluting the burden of proof when someone is charged with such a serious offence. How can the soon-to-be right hon. Gentleman and the Minister justify keeping the section in force when Lord Carlile of Berriew, who has been listened to in almost every other respect and has successfully advised the Government, has said that it should be repealed? As we do not have Lord Carlile's assessment of the use of the section in full during the course of the year, will the Minister tell us of any instances when it has been used in the past 12 months, because I have yet to hear that evidence?
In February's debate to renew part VII provisions, my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised concerns about section 75, which provides for non-jury trial in Northern Irelanda Diplock trial. Although it is fair to recognise Lord Carlile's assessment that Northern Ireland judges apply rigorous standards to the quality of evidence in non-jury trials, he recommended in his last report that the Government should consider moving from employing one judge in non-jury trials to a three-judge court. He states:
As part of the normalisation process in Northern Ireland, we have to move in that direction. We would all prefer it if the circumstances allowed us to return to full jury trials in Northern Ireland, but without pre-empting what might be in my noble Friend's report in the coming months, I suspect that we are not there yet. A three-judge court would demonstrate that we are moving towards the restoration of a normal judicial process in Northern Ireland. What discussions have taken place since February to move the situation on? Are the Government considering how we can make progress on that crucial issue?
The Secretary of State made encouraging noises about considering the issue, at least in the broader context. Will the Minister confirm that he will give serious consideration to an amendment tabled in Committee to create a three-judge court environment? I can see absolutely no downside for the Government in making that move forward, but a considerable improvementan upsideamong certain sectors of the Northern Ireland community in their faith that the courts will be fairer.
There are also ways in the 2000 Act to reintroduce parts currently repealed, in particular as set out in clause 2. That would require primary legislation. We very much agree that that is the right way forward, but what time do the Government foresee for those debates, because they must be more than merely tokenistic?
31 Oct 2005 : Column 651
Despite concerns about specific sections, it is important to ensure that part VII provisions remain in force for the time being. However, I shall study with the greatest interest and in detail the next IMC report and Lord Carlile's report. Once again, the more that the Government can provide as an advance indication of where they might be going, the more useful that would be.
There is one irony that cannot go unmentioned, however. The Bill is in large part based on the historical and political experience of the Province and is thus in keeping with a mature understanding of the motivations of the terrorists, as well as the reality of terrorist acts. Let us remember the reason for the Bill. The 2000 Act tidied up and extended previous counter-terrorism legislation and put counter-terrorism laws on a permanent footing. It was intended to combat all forms of terrorism, not just terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland. It provides a range of measures designed to prevent terrorism, supports the investigation of terrorist crime and extends UK-wide.
Why have the Government failed to understand the contradiction between the judgments they make about Northern Ireland, which can lead to informed and consensual solutions, such as this Bill, and the unjoined-up approach that they take to international terrorism as a whole? Why is it that the very things that bring us together on this Bill should not have counted one jot in the many terrorist debates and Bills that have been thrown at us in recent weeks in the international context? Why is it that right hon. and hon. Members can talk rationally about these things in the Members' Tea Room and agree that there is an inconsistency between how we deal with Northern Ireland terrorism and international terrorism, and yet we are presented with a malignant, aggressive and unlistening Government when it comes to tackling terrorism in the rest of the UK?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|