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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is not the very least that those bruised and wounded people can expect the appearance in a court in person of the murderous thugs who perpetrated that atrocity?
I understand the powerful arguments that have been made about the matter. We are trying to strike a difficult balance[Interruption.] The House will make its own judgment. It is difficult to strike the
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right balance. In the end, I decided that it was more important to get more people through the process than would otherwise be the case
Mr. Hain: The point that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) rightly made is the first matter that we should consider. It is probably the most sensitive issue in the BillI understand that. There is a question of balance and of whether we can get more people accounted for, brought to justice and convicted, if the evidence justifies that. The victims then have at least the satisfaction that the people who are now on the run outside UK jurisdiction or who might be uncovered by the historic inquiries will be brought to justice.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State accept that the figures for deaths and for victims who lived but are scarred physically and mentally do not reflect the total number of deaths resulting from the Sinn Fein-IRA campaign of genocide, especially against the Protestant community? Does he accept that many deaths resulted from fathers and mothers with broken hearts and children who committed suicide because they could not face the reality of how their loved ones met their deaths at the hands of those murderous scum?
Mr. Hain: Indeed, I do. I fully agree with the hon. Lady. She knows better than me many of the victims and many who felt that life was not worth living after their loved ones were blown up and their lives destroyed. I greatly appreciate that point. As I shall make clear later, the Bill is aimed at bringing closure and an end to the murderous IRA campaign, which the 28 July statement achieved and was confirmed by General de Chastelain's statement on 26 September. The Bill is aimed at ensuring that the armed campaign is over and that there are no future victims of the IRA.
Mrs. Robinson: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way a second time. Does he realise that the Bill will bring not closure but more anger and pain, because those people relied on the Government to allow them to see justice done to those who perpetrated the heinous crimes?
Mr. Hain: That will happen if people are convicted[Interruption.] There may not be sufficient evidence to convict them, but if they are convicted, they will have a criminal record and have to give DNA and other intimate samples. There will at least be such accounting and closure for the victims.[Interruption.] I understandwe are all in the same boat. [Hon. Members: "We are not."] We are[Interruption.]
Order. We are conducting a debate and the Secretary of State has a right to put the case before
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the House and to be heard. If there is so much shouting, I shall suspend the sitting. That is the dangerthat no one else will get an opportunity to speak.
Mr. Hain: Although I fully appreciate your point, Mr. Speaker, I also recognise the strong feelingsindeed, the angerthat the hon. Lady expresses. She knows from first-hand experience, as do many of her colleagues, the suffering that has gone on. All I would say to herI stress that I do not make the point adversariallyis that, at the moment, the people whom the Bill covers are on the run, outside UK jurisdiction. There is the prospectno more but no lessof bringing them into UK jurisdiction and putting them through a process of justice. If the tribunal convicts them, it will mean that they have a criminal record. That should be some comfort to the victims.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The Secretary of State talks about bringing closure. Why does he insult the victims? It is bad enough to introduce the offensive and nauseating Bill, but to say that he is doing it for themhow insulting can the Secretary of State be? Has he not heard the victims say that they do not want this obnoxious Bill? If he had any decency, he would withdraw it immediately.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman is right[Hon. Members: "Withdraw it."] He is right that the Bill is unquestionably hated by victims. I am sure that the RUC widows whom the Prime Minister and I will meet with the hon. Member for North Down this afternoon in Downing street will express the same point of view as the member of the Police Federation.
My point is that the Bill is about the closure of a dark, awful and murderous terrorist campaign by the IRA. That ought to be of benefit to the victims in the sense that, at the moment, nothing is being done about the people whom we are considering. The on-the-runs are beyond UK jurisdiction and that is no consolation to the victims.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The right hon. Gentleman says that he will meet some of the victims from the police this afternoon. I hope that he realises just how deep, dark and terrible the cut to the quick of their souls is. Does he appreciate that the Bill is not closure when 202 police officers were murdered and nothing has been done? They were put into what the Chief Constable described as the cold. They were cold cases. No action has been taken over the deaths of loved ones who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and in the Army. How does the Secretary of State believe that the Bill, which wipes the stone clear, will ever close what is in the hearts, minds and souls of those people?
Again, the right hon. Gentleman knows more individuals than me who have suffered so grievously. It is not a question of bringing closure to their anguishthat is not possible. I am not presuming to suggest that. I am arguing that this legislation is part of an international agreement with the Irish Republic announced in 2003, and part of a process of bringing to an end this awful murderous activity and terror by the
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IRAI agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs Robinson), who made clear her views about the IRA.
Mr. Hain: Before I take more interventions, which I will be happy to do, I want to inform the House that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), and I have between us met representatives of the RUC George Cross Foundation, the RUC George Cross Widows Association, the RUC George Cross Parents Association, the Police Federation and the Superintendents Association. I also met many victims at Millisle on Remembrance day, as I explained earlier. I do not deny that the victims are very angry about this legislation, but the Government sometimes have to take a view on difficult decisions in order to make progress. That is what we have done.
Mr. Frank Field: When the Secretary of State says that the Government are seeking closure, does he realise that the House and, probably, many of the victims are actually seeking justice? They are also well aware that the Government are sending out conflicting messages. If someone is a white, murderous Protestant or Catholic terrorist, they might get closure, but we have another message for black Muslim terrorists if they attack us.
Mr. Hain: I find that suggestion reprehensible. The problem that my right hon. Friend and others are refusing to face up to is that these people are not being brought to justice now[Hon. Members: "Why not?"] In the case of the on-the-runs, they are beyond UK jurisdictionand have been for decades, in some cases. In the case of the historic inquiries, we are trying to use the new techniques available, including DNA, to track people down. This includes some of the cases involving murdered police officers rightly mentioned by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). We are trying to find out who was responsible for those historic cases, some of which go back almost 40 years, then arrest them and charge them. That will be pursued.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Does the Secretary of State not recognise why people feel so strongly about this? My predecessor in my constituency bears daily the scars of IRA activity. He and his wife, who sits in a wheelchair, had to swallow very hardas did I, and many others who had misgivings about the Good Friday agreementas the Government moved again and again on these issues. But we swallowed. Does he not recognise that the difference now is that he is proposing to give people who ran away from their crime, and who have never been brought to book, the opportunity to avoid that completely? That goes far beyond anything that has happened before. Does he not recognise that people think that this is a grubby and reprehensible move by the Government, and that it is going one step too far?
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