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The right hon. Gentleman made his point very powerfully, and I understand it. I would just make this point in return. He will recall the absolute outcry when the Conservative Government started talking to the IRA. Those early negotiations began a process
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which this legislation is concludingwhich led to the statement by the IRA on 28 July that no one here ever thought that it would make, namely, that it was giving up its armed, vicious, murderous terrorist campaign. The Bill is part of that process[Interruption.] Well, it is, because it is part of the process agreed with the Irish Government in 2003[Interruption.]
Mr. Hain: The point is that the Bill is part of the process announced in 2003, and part of the process that has led to the historic experience for the people of Northern Ireland of the IRA ending their terrorist war. There will therefore be no Provisional IRA victims in the future, as there have so grievously been in the past.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State said that the Government had not moved earlier on this legislation because the IRA had not moved sufficiently on decommissioning. Of course, the Bill will benefit not only the IRA but the loyalist paramilitaries, who have made no moves on decommissioning whatever, so where is the logic there? The Secretary of State also suggests that the Bill somehow flows from the Good Friday agreement. Let me remind him that when the agreement was signed, yes, we sold it and promoted it on the basis that there would be prison releases within two years. We were told at the time that the key date for prison releases was after the date for the completion of decommissioning, but the Government then dropped that. We also assured the victims of crimes that had not been solved that their cases would still be pursued, even if it meant that the perpetrators would serve only two years in jail. That is what the victims were told by Ministers and by the parties, and that is why the victims are being betrayed by the Government today.
Mr. Hain: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about loyalist paramilitaries. Whether they are on the run or uncovered by the historic investigations, they will of course find themselves the target of this legislation.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Has the Secretary of State received any indication from the IRA or its political representatives that they will return to violence if he does not take this further step beyond the agreement?
No. However, rightly or wronglythe hon. Gentleman takes the view that it is wrong, and I respect that; indeed, that view is being expressed very vehemently today, and I understand thatHer Majesty's Government entered into two agreements that have led to this Bill being introduced. The first was an international agreement with the Irish Government, and that cannot be lightly disregarded. Any responsible Government would have felt that that was the right thing to do to get to where we areand we have got there. Secondly, as part of the negotiations that led to that process and then to the 28 July statement by the IRA, yes, this was one of the factors in those
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negotiations and an agreement was made there. Yes, this is following the 28 July statement, but it was part of the process that led to this historic change by the IRA, which I know was welcomed by the hon. Gentleman and every other hon. Member.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Why is the Secretary of State attempting to hang his argument on the fact that the Bill affects on-the-runs? The majority of people who will benefit from it ran from no one. It will affect everyone who committed a terrorist crime before 10 April 1998, not just those who are on the run. Will he please explain why there are to be two different standards: one in Dáil Eireann and one here in Westminster? In Dáil Eireann, the killers of Garda McCabe are not to be brought within the scope of this legislation. Is a garda in the Republic of Ireland more valuable than an RUC man in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Hain: No, of course not. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the Irish Government are responsible for bringing to justiceor not, as the case may becases within their own jurisdiction. That case does not fall within UK jurisdiction. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Irish Government have chosen to address this issue by pardoning people. We are not doing that. We are making sure that people are brought to justice. He is right to say that the Bill affects not only those on the run outside UK jurisdiction but, potentially, those who are the subject of the Chief Constable's historic inquiries investigation. That investigation will involve a difficult process, and if it uncovers those who have been responsible for awful atrocities such as that in Enniskillen, for example, they will be arrested, charged and brought to justice. They can choose how to proceed.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I stood in a mortuary and looked into the faceor part of the faceof a young girl, my cousin aged 21 and engaged to be married that day. I then asked to see my other cousin, her brother, aged 16, blown up by the IRA. He was not on a table. There was not enough to put on a table. His earthly remains were lying on the floor in a sheet. I ask the Secretary of State to tell me this: am I to bury justice to appease the murderers, the IRA?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful point very movingly, in a way that only he could, given the experience that he has described. I appreciate the emotion with which he made his point, and it is very compelling. Let me say in all good faith, howeverand I accept his right to disagree with me vehementlythat one of the reasons why we were able to achieve an end to the IRA terror campaign and the IRA's statement of 28 July was the agreement that we made with the Irish Government to produce this legislation at the appropriate time.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP):
This morning on Radio 4, the Secretary of State referred to what he described as political prisoners. We take great offence at that description of terrorists. If the term is to be applied to one set of terrorists, why should it not be applied to all of them?
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Do not the IRA men who murdered Garda Jerry McCabe fall into that category? Are they different from the murderers of RUC officers in Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State spoke of an international agreement that he had reached with the Irish Republic. Why do standards differ in the two jurisdictions?
The Secretary of State said earlier that he had met representatives of the Superintendents Association. Is he aware of the association's view that the Bill is so deeply flawed that it is potentially injurious to the overall administration of the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland and to public confidence therein? If that is the view of police superintendents in Northern Ireland, how can we be expected to support the Bill in the House?
I was not aware that I had used the term "political prisoners" on the radio. In fact, they are paramilitary prisoners. Let me correct the record for the benefit of the House. As for the way in which the Irish Government choose to treat this matter, we are not in favour of acting in that way in the United Kingdom, within our own jurisdiction. That is why, rather than engaging in a process of pardoning, we are introducing a process whereby although people will not have to serve in prison, if convicted they will be released on licence. If they breach the terms of the licence, they can be rearrested at any time.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Will the Secretary of State reflect on the wise words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who has huge experience of these matters, and will he respond to the part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention to which he failed to respond earlier? This ill-thought-out and unpleasant legislation does not flow from the Belfast agreement, which many of us supported and for which most people in Northern Ireland voted in a referendum. It flows from deals done at Weston Park in 2001, and there is therefore no reason for it to be supported. It does not have the support of the people of Northern Ireland; neither does it have the support of most of those in the House who backed the Belfast agreement.
Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman is correct to the extent that the Bill did not flow from the Belfast agreementthe Good Friday agreement. He said earlier today that it was negotiated well before I started my job. [Interruption.] I am not trying to shift the responsibility; I am merely correcting the record. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the process began at Weston Park in 2001 and was concluded in the joint declaration by the two Governments in 2003.
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