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The Secretary of State spoke of people being released on licence. That will give little comfort to the people of Northern Ireland, who are aware of the despicable way in which he behaved over the imprisonment of one Sean Kelly for breaching his licence conditions. Sean Kelly was released within weeks
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because the IRA had demanded his release as part of the price for its statement. The licensing provisions therefore do not give the people of Northern Ireland any reassurance. Does the Secretary of State accept that his attempts to defend this obnoxious legislation do not inspire confidence in Members of Parliament or in people outside this place?
Mr. Hain: That case was unique in that about six weeks after I had had Sean Kelly arrestedI was widely attacked for doing that, but it was the right thing to doit was clear that the IRA had given up its terrorist campaign, as it was due to announce the next day, and that he had signed up to that. The situation was entirely different. I had Sean Kelly arrested because I was told by the Chief Constable that he was engaging in activity that constituted a breach of his licence.
The point I am making is that, under the Bill, anyone with a conviction who is released on licence and who breaches the terms of that licence can be hauled back. That cannot happen at present because such people are outside the United Kingdom's jurisdiction.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): The Secretary of State has referred seven times to two agreementsan agreement between the Irish and British Governments and an agreement between the British Government and Sinn Fein. Was it agreed with Sinn Fein that these criminalsthese murdererswould never stand in a court of law? Was it agreed that they would never have to appear before any tribunal? Was that agreed by our Prime Minister?
Sir Patrick Cormack : As the Secretary of State has neither logic nor justice on his side, and as he is clearly deeply uncomfortable with the case that he is having to put to the House, why can he not accept the offer made to him on behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which suggested that the Bill be referred for pre-legislative scrutiny? It cannot by any stretch of anyone's imagination be described as emergency legislation. Why can we not have time to take evidence and decide on the best way to deal with a problem that we acknowledge exists? Why does the Secretary of State persist with this tawdry measure, which is not worthy of him?
In all fairness, the hon. Gentleman did make that point to me when I gave evidence to his Committee a few weeks ago. Let me repeat what I said then. Pre-legislative scrutiny is an admirable process, initiated by this Government and by me and supported by me, but it cannot be applied to every Bill. This Bill is being introduced at this time as part of a sequence of events negotiated by both Governments some years ago.
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The hon. Gentleman disagrees with me, as do many others, but we are fulfillingI am fulfillingan agreement made with the Irish Government and others.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has already described the Bill as unpalatable, which I think is parliamentary language meaning that it is abhorrent to many people because of the repercussions for victims. Some Labour Members may not be in a position to understand that, but we entirely understand where the Opposition are coming from.
Given what my right hon. Friend has said about the balance to be achieved, the Bill may be unavoidable. However, to reassure people that there is at least some justice in it, will he keep an open mind on the issue of appearance in court, which was raised by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)? He may agree with me that people would have a greater sense of justice if they saw the individuals involved standing in the courts.
Mr. Hain: I understand my hon. Friend's point, which was also expressed powerfully by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire. The Bill has a long way to go in order to complete its passage and we shall listen carefully to the arguments, but for reasons that I have explained the Bill provides that people will not have to appear in court. It was a difficult balance to strike, but it is the balance that we struck.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State sprinkled the term "justice" throughout his speech. He is not prepared to make certain people accede to a request to appear before a courtI ignore all the other measures in the Bill that do not require the perpetrator of a crime to appear or co-operate in any wayyet he is prepared to give them a licence, which, as we have heard, he can throw out against police advice at some later date. Will he explain how that can be viewed as "justice", and, if it is justice, what comfort is there in it? The victim does not see the perpetrator and the perpetrators do not have to appear, so where is the comfort for the victim?
Mr. Hain: If individuals who appear before the special court are convictedthe hon. Gentleman will understand that that will depend on the evidencethey will have a criminal record. [Interruption.] That is the point that I am making about a system of justice.
Let me also deal with the point about comfort. As I have said, I understand the anger of victims, but there is no comfort for them at all under present circumstances in which many of the people likely to come through the process are outside UK jurisdiction and evading justice. They will continue to evade justice, as far as anyone can see, for ever. Compared with that position[Interruption.] They are evading justice, so the Bill represents an improvement, in my view, because those involved are brought through a proper process.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD):
Was the commitment for defendants not to have to appear in court given in writing to the IRA? If victims can be subpoenaed to appear in court, while the perpetrator can be sitting in a pub down the road waiting for the result, how can the court achieve a fair and just result? If the perpetrator
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cannot even be questioned, how can the court get to the bottom of the matter and achieve a result that is fair and just? Will the Secretary of State explain that?
Mr. Hain: Some in absentia trials do occur, but I recognise the hon. Lady's point. Defendants might well choose to appear before the special court because they do not want the sentence that would result from the conviction. I repeat the point that I made and reconfirm that no assurance was given in writing to the IRA about this specific matter[Interruption.] Of course no such written assurance was given.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): A number of British soldiers have faced difficulties in regard to acts that they may have committed as a matter of duty under military law. Are some of those soldiers who have been convicted to be given pardons? It is outrageous that terrorists should get away with it, while soldiers who performed their duties under military law should be treated in that way.
Mr. Hain: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter with me earlier. In framing the final details of the Bill, I faced a choice. The original draft did not apply to members of the security forces at all. I took the view that, leaving aside the question of whether the Bill is right or wrong in principleclearly, the hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues oppose itif we were to proceed with legislation that we believed to be essential, it would be entirely wrong for members of the security forces in the course of their duty to find themselves[Interruption.]
Members of the security forces may have committed a criminal offence in the course of their duty: it has happened in a handful of cases and who knows what might be uncovered in the future? For them to find themselves serving a prison sentence when members of the IRA and loyalist terrorists could be walking free would, I thought, be entirely wrong. That is why I gave members of the security forcesincluding, in principle, serving soldiers nowthe choice of availing themselves of the special procedure. If they found themselves chargedand only if they found themselves chargedwith a crime uncovered as a result of historic inquiries, I felt that it would discriminate against them in comparison with the IRA or loyalist terrorists to deny them the opportunity of taking advantage of the provisions.
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