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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). We regret the necessity for the Bill, but given the continuing situation in Northern Ireland it is indeed necessary. That was acknowledged by all who spoke except the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who would have preferred the Government to be bolder in moving towards a more normal situation in Northern Ireland. The rest of the House realises that we are not yet in such a situation. I am sorry that we must support the Bill, but we must.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) made a measured speech. I think he reflected the sentiments of the House in expressing the hope that this was the last occasion on which we would have to consider such legislation. He acknowledged, however, that the present circumstances could represent a false dawn, and regretted the fact that many debates of this kind took place against a continuing threat of violence.
I hesitate to try to sum up a speech by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)soon to be the right hon. Memberin just a few words, but I shall do my best. The hon. Gentleman drew attention to an apparent contradiction in the Government's position: although we are constantly told that things are much better in Northern Irelandthat the IRA has given up all its weapons, and is ceasing all its activitieswe still need to introduce the Bill. Indeed, a number of Members drew attention to that apparent contradiction. No doubt the Minister will set our minds at rest when he explains the Government's position.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who chairs the Select Committee, madeas usuala telling and powerful
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speech. He called for Sinn Fein Members to take their seats, and, more important, for the Government to be seen to treat them in the same way as everyone else. That, I think, echoes the thoughts of many other Members. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) stressed the need for patience, and condemned loyalist violence. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds)who has apologised for not being able to stay for the winding-up speechesurged caution, and emphasised the importance of not risking the welfare of people in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) spoke of his first visit to Northern Ireland. He mentioned the many good things that he saw, but also his disappointment at some unfortunate aspects of the Province that still remain. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) said, in a passionate speech, that it mattered what the IRA did, not just what it said. He also ridiculedI think I am right to use that wordthe action of members of Sinn Fein in claiming allowances for a job that they did not actually do. It surprises many people that they are able to do that.
In another passionate speech, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) said that we should not thank the terrorists for ceasing to do things that they should never have been doing in the first place. He rightly said that there could be no justification for acts of terrorism on either side of the divide. In a wide-ranging speech, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said that members of all political parties who seek to take their seats in government should support the police. It is nonsensical to think that a constitutional party can exist without supporting the police, who are there to enforce the laws that that party will pass.
As I have said, it is unfortunate that we need the Bill, but we do need it. People in Northern Ireland want many things, but most of them want to be treated normally. When I last visited Northern Ireland, only last week, I saw the need to go beyond having meetings with the police and political parties, important though that is. I took myself to a hospital, a school and one or two other places, and saw excellent work being carried out. The school system, which for some reason the Government seem intent on dismantling, is achieving very good resultsthe best in the United Kingdom, I believethrough grammar schools, and Northern Ireland education in general. Those facts are lost, however, when all we and the media talk about is security. It is important to look beyond that.
That said, we must recognise that the security situation in Northern Ireland is still very difficult. According to recent reports, dissident republicans tried to attract disgruntled members of the Provisional IRA following the IRA statement. The Continuity IRA remains
Then there is the feud between the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I visited the police in Belfast recently. I watched videos showing people dressed in Orange Order sashes taking them off and throwing missiles at the police. That is unacceptable. We condemn that violence; indeed, we condemn violence on both sides of the divide. It cannot continue. While it does continue, however, we need the Bill.
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According to the recent Monitoring Commission report, during a period of six months recently there were 69 shootings, more or less evenly balanced between the two sides of the divide. There were 70 paramilitary assaults, and six murders. That too is unacceptable, at a time when there is supposed to be peace in Northern Ireland. We must recognise, however, that we have some way to go before we secure the peace that we all want.
We do not just need statements from the IRA or, indeed, the LVF; we need action. More than anything else, we need a change in hearts and minds. We need people on both sides of the divide to be unwilling to engage in violence to further their political ends. We have needed that change in hearts and minds for a long time, but we will see it only when people in Northern Ireland feel that both sides are being treated fairlywhen they perceive that constitutional politicians who seek to advance their arguments by peaceful means are rewarded, and that terrorists are not.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): We have had a good debate and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) covered several substantive points, which other hon. Members expanded. We thank him and his party for their support. He rightly recognises that the measures are exceptional but proportionate, and rightly drew attention to last night's statement from the LVF.
The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said that we should thank church and community leaders for the positive pressure that they exerted to help bring about the end of the summer's feud. They have shown exemplary leadership in difficult circumstances.
The Secretary of State said that a fundamental change had occurred in the security situation. The hon. Member for Aylesbury said that he awaited further evidence. So do we. However, let us not underestimate the evidence of the summerthe statement of 28 July and the act of decommissioning. The Bill is a further step in creating an enabling environment. It does not mean that we have arrived at security normalisation, but it is necessary to prepare for such a day. The Bill plays its part in that but, for the present, leaves the special measures in place. It prepares for the future but takes no risks with the security of people in Northern Ireland now.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked whether part VII would continue to be needed after August 2008. The Secretary of State set out the position and we are confident that, in the future, that will not be the case. He also asked whether part VII would be needed to deal with the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA in the future. The United Kingdom has some of the strongest and most effective counter-terrorist legislation in the world. We are satisfied that, after the part VII provisions have been repealed, the permanent counter-terrorism powers that apply throughout the UK will be sufficient to deal with any residual threat. However, as my right hon. Friend made clear, we will keep the security situation under constant review and if additional provision is necessary in the future, I have no doubt that he will return to Parliament.
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The hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) asked whether we would replace Diplock courts with the three-judge courts that Lord Carlile recommended. We remain committed to the ideal of a return to jury trial. Indeed, we intend to go on examining what may be required for paramilitary-type trials, in which jurors could be subject to intimidation. However, we do not want to prejudge the outcome of any considerations by commenting on a specific model.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire asked about Lord Carlile's recommendation of moving to the three-judge system of the Republic. I simply remind him of the words of Lord Carlile's 2004 report. He stated:
The hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Montgomeryshire asked about jury trials. The Government recognise that a serious risk of jury intimidation remains in a small number of cases in Northern Ireland. It would therefore be irresponsible to leave those who participate in court proceedings at risk from those who wish systematically to undermine the administration of justice through intimidation. We are mindful that arrangements need to be put in place to ensure the continuing effectiveness of the criminal justice system. However, I am sure that hon. Members understand that until the detailed, inter-agency work that is now under way has been completed, it would not be appropriate for me to outline specific proposals. There will be opportunities for hon. Members to have that discussion in due course.
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