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Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con):
The Secretary of State repeatedly used the word "closure", and subsequently made it clear that it has nothing to do with the victims, but apparently with violence. Will he
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explain how allowing those who are genuinely on the run abroad to come back to the UK to send a text message to the Secretary of State's wretched commissionerthat is virtually all that they have to dowill somehow make it safer for people who live perhaps in the very street to which those people return to live?
Mr. Hain: If they come back, they will initially apply to the commissioner. If they return to Northern Ireland or any other part of the UK after the commissioner has issued a certificatethe contents of the certificate are determined not by the on-the-run suspect, but by the Police Service of Northern Irelandthey will be arrested. It is a matter for the policeit is not a question of simply texting something and appearing the next day in the Falls roadand there is a proper judicial process to go through.
The Secretary of State is well aware of the scepticism among some elements of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland about the detailed implementation of aspects of the Good Friday agreement. Everyone knows that. However, the Bill goes beyond that agreement. How will confidence be improved among the Protestant community, most of whom will see this grubby little Bill for exactly what it isa capitulation to Adams and McGuinness?
Mr. Hain: The Good Friday agreement[Interruption.] No, the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), for whom I have a great deal of admiration, should realise that it is not a question of not caring. I really do not accept that. It is a matter of the Government taking responsibility to bring closure not to the victims' anguishthat can never be donebut to the IRA terrorist campaign, which we have now succeeded in doing under the 28 July agreement. The Good Friday agreement started that process, but it did not conclude it. One of the reasons for introducing the Bill is as part of an agreement that did conclude that process.
Let me say, in all fairness, to right hon. and hon. Members that this legislation isas the hon. Member for South Staffordshire, the Chairman of the Select Committee, reminded meextremely difficult. I understand that and I appreciate the strong feelings involved, the anguish of the victims and the anger felt among elected Members of Parliament of all parties in Northern Ireland. I appreciate all that, but to reach a position in which the IRA has ended its vicious war and terrorist campaign required us to introduce, among other things, the Bill before us. That is the reason for introducing the Bill[Interruption.] I would also suggest, however much it might be denied, that any responsible Governmentincluding a Conservative Governmentwho had reached the point of persuading, forcing and cajoling the IRA to give up its terrorist campaign would have faced exactly the same circumstances that I now face.
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Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Secretary of State cannot be allowed to get off with the pretence that Weston Park somehow concluded the business of the Good Friday agreement. The distinction is that the Good Friday agreement involved the agreement of all parties, whereas Weston Park involved that of only two. If the Government have made certain undertakings that are not in their power to deliver, they cannot now seek to get our imprimatur for those agreements.
Mr. Hain: For the historical record, the hon. Gentleman must know that one of the reasons the Democratic Unionist party opposed the Good Friday agreement was that it did not bring closure to the IRA's terrorist campaign. We have now done that. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can go back to the history and form their own judgments, but the agreement did not achieve that closure. The Bill is part of a commitment to make sure that we have delivered an end to that murderous and terrible campaign.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Secretary of State continues to say that the Bill is about the IRA, not the victims. Supposedly, the IRA has said that the war is over, so why are we introducing this Bill? Is my right hon. Friend saying that if Parliament turns down the shoddy little agreement that the Government and Sinn Fein-IRA have signed up to, the IRA will say that the war is on again?
Mr. Hain: No, not for the moment, as I am trying to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall. She and other hon. Members may say that we should not have made that agreement, but without it there would have been no guarantee of an historic end to the IRA's campaign. That is the point.
If it had not been ended, that historic and murderous terrorist campaign would have created even more victims in the future. That is the point, and the Government have taken a tough and difficult decision.
Mr. Hain: I started taking interventions some half an hour or more ago, at which time I was explaining that Mo Mowlam started the process by acknowledging that victims had suffered grievously during the Northern Ireland conflict. We all know that, in many respects, their cases had been appallingly neglected for decades, by all Governments. That is why she brought victims' issues to the heart of Government with the creation of the world's first Minister for victims. That is why the memorial fund was set up, and why we have recently provided it with a further £1.5 million. It is also why Her Majesty the Queen recognised the valour and sacrifice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary with the George Cross, and today marks the fifth anniversary of that award. Without those officers' sacrifice, the dramatic improvements in the security situation evident today could not have come about.
It is also why I have appointed Northern Ireland's first victims' commissioner, Mrs. Bertha McDougall. She is the widow of an RUC officer who, in addition to other tasks, will prepare the ground for a victims and survivors forum.
I have met many victims of the troubles since taking up this job, some with most horrific stories of loss, pain and continued suffering. Quite properly, those stories have been brought to Members' attention by members of the Democratic Unionist party in particular. I would not presume for one second to tell any victim that they must draw a line under the past. I cannot, and would not, tell anyone who has suffered such a unique and personal loss that they must close a door on their pain and move on.
I recognise entirely the difficulty of this step. If I had not done so already, that difficulty has been made very clear in the debate. However, I believe that it is necessary, as do others who have been involved in the Northern Ireland peace process.
For example, I met the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, in Washington last week. He is well known to many hon. Members, and much respected for his unswerving stand against terrorism in Ireland. He has given me permission to inform the House of what he told me. He said that he regards this Bill as a painful but necessary step towards completing the translation from the years of pain and conflict. I agree exactly with those sentiments.
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