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Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I join the Secretary of State in offering heartfelt condolences to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). I am sure he will know that he has many friends. He is held in great affection on both sides of the House, and the thoughts and prayers of all hon. Members will be with him today.

The Secretary of State presented his case in a measured fashion. It seems to me that his case rests on two propositions. First, we have a choice between, as he put it, allowing criminals to run free, or putting them through the special procedures created by the Bill. One has only to ponder briefly and imagine any Minister of any Government of any possible political persuasion applying that argument to any other category of criminal to see just how flimsy that ground is. The second argument that the Secretary of State put forward is that the measure, however unpalatable, is needed for Northern Ireland to achieve closure and to put a dark and violent past behind it.

I am happy to pay tribute to the efforts that the right hon. Gentleman, his predecessors in office and the Prime Minister have made over the years to bring peace and normality to the suffering people of Northern Ireland, but I have to say that I do not believe that the Bill will attain the objective that he wants. The Bill is wrong. It is unjust, it undermines the rule of law and it betrays utterly the interests of the victims of terrorism. The House is being invited to offer—however much we dress it up—what amounts to an amnesty or a pardon to men
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and women who include those responsible for some of the worst atrocities of a 30-year campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Mr. Hain: May I take the hon. Gentleman up on that point? I welcome the basis on which he is making his speech, except for that point. A pardon or an amnesty would mean that people would just be given a bit of paper and would never have to account for their crimes or terrorist atrocities. These people could face conviction and have a criminal record, and could be hauled in if they misbehaved in the future. That cannot, by any definition, be a pardon or an amnesty.

Mr. Lidington: As I hope to explain later in my speech, one of the problems that I have with the Bill is the fact that it sets aside due process and the normal rule of law. It shuts out the courts from consideration of these cases. It will certainly make it much more difficult than it should be to hold these criminals to account in public for what they have done.

The Bill offers that amnesty to people who have never owned up for what they did, who have never had to stand in court to hear evidence against them and who, in most cases, have never served one day in prison for their crimes. It is important for every Member of the House—irrespective of how we intend to vote tonight—to reflect carefully on, and have in their minds, the sort of crimes about which we are talking. It is sometimes too easy for those of us who represent constituencies in Great Britain to think that the experience of people in Northern Ireland is different because it is no longer in the headlines and is thus in the past and forgotten. Let me give just three examples of cases, the perpetrators of which might stand to benefit from the scheme embodied in the Bill.

In 1976, in Kingsmill, County Armagh, a minibus carrying 10 textile workers home from their local factory was stopped at gunpoint. The men were ordered out and they were shot down in the road with at least four different automatic weapons.

In 1987, in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, a bomb exploded on Remembrance Sunday. It was timed for just before 11 am. Eleven people died and 63 were injured. No warning whatever was given.

In 1992, in Teebane, County Tyrone, an IRA land mine killed eight building workers who were travelling in a minibus on their way home. It maimed six others. Just seconds before the explosion, a bus filled with schoolgirls had passed over the same spot.

The House needs to understand that the sense of horror felt in Northern Ireland was just as deep after those outrages, and the grief of widows and children was just as heartfelt, as anything that we experienced here in London in July, or that we saw, tragically, in Bradford last weekend. The Bill is not a mere tidying-up exercise, or a minor piece of unfinished business. As hon. Members' interventions have already demonstrated and as, to be fair, the Secretary of State has publicly acknowledged, it gives rise to real passion, anger and heartache.

I want to address the various arguments that have been used to justify the Bill, but first let me make it clear that I draw no comfort from the Government's assurance that the Bill could apply to soldiers and police
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officers as much as to terrorists. It is a form of logic that amounts to casuistry to defend a measure that has been contrived to deliver a deal between the Government and IRA-Sinn Fein on the grounds that the special arrangements will also be opened up to soldiers and police officers. Like my hon. Friends—I feel somewhat humble speaking in the presence of those who have served in the armed forces on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland to defend them against terrorism—I find it morally repugnant that we are being asked to approve a Bill that treats agents of the Crown on a par with brutal and ruthless terrorists.

Mr. Hain: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and sympathise with it in many respects. However, will he table an amendment to the Bill to remove—[Interruption.] No, I want the hon. Gentleman to answer this specific question: will he try to ensure that if members of the security forces are charged—and only if they are charged—they will not be able to avail themselves of the special court procedure? Is that his party's policy?

Mr. Lidington: I put to the Secretary of State what members of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland said to me when I met them last week; I am sure that they have said the same thing to him. They said that they believed that the Bill was unjustified in principle, and that if there were compelling evidence against an individual police officer—whether that derived from the Stevens inquiry or another source—that police officer should expect to face charges and appear in open court like anyone else. I and my predecessors with my responsibilities have argued consistently for that throughout all the debates about collusion and related inquiries.

Mr. Hain: I understand both that point and the hon. Gentleman's point of principle in objecting to the Bill. He will vote against the Bill. However, is he saying that if Parliament passes the Bill—I respect the fact that it will be vigorously opposed at every stage, including by him—he will have wanted his party to have moved an amendment to remove the option for members of the security forces to go through the procedure?

Mr. Lidington: As the Secretary of State said himself, we will deal with amendments in Committee and on Report. I agree with the view expressed to me forcefully by the Police Federation for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Robathan: As this shameful Bill is a concession to the IRA, as the Saville inquiry has been a concession to the IRA and as the start-up of investigations into past cases involving soldiers will be a concession to the IRA, does my hon. Friend think it is likely that the operations in Gibraltar and Loughgall, for example, will be investigated with the backing of the Government? That might lead to charges against, and perhaps the conviction of, serving officers, some of whom will be senior officers, as a concession to the IRA. If those people received criminal convictions, they would have to give up their jobs.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend speaks with his experience of service in the Army. It is obviously for the Government—whether in the person of the Secretary of
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State or the Secretary of State for Defence—to explain what they plan to do about investigations into allegations against members or former members of the armed forces. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the worry expressed in July in the House of Lords by the most recently serving Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce. He described the armed forces as "under legal siege", and said that the legal challenges and investigations already under way were

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