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Mr. Carmichael : Is not the answer to the logical knots in which the Secretary of State ties himself that, instead of putting soldiers into the special tribunal, we put terrorists into the courts? If there is to be a process involving guilty or not guilty pleas, evidence being heard and thereafter a conviction to be reached, that should be done in a court.
Mr. Duncan Smith : May I compliment my hon. Friend on making a cogent argument? I put it to him, and through him to the Secretary of State, that seeing how reprehensible the Bill is, the Secretary of State has sought to suck the British forces into it as a shield against criticism. On the question of an amendment, the best amendment of all is to strike the legislation down.
Mr. Lidington: The trouble with estimating the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry is that the figure goes up with each written answer, one of which was received by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell).
Dr. Julian Lewis : Let us return to the options facing a soldier who took part in an operation such as Loughall, which, I believe, had ministerial prior approval, and who finds himself accused. As I understand it from what the Secretary of State said, he has the option of, in a sense, accepting his guilt, even if he thinks he is innocent, and going through the special procedure, or fighting the case through the courts, where he may be found guilty. Let us suppose that he thinks he is innocent, but does not want to take the risk of being found guilty and serving a sentence. The temptation for him to take the new procedure and accept a guilt that he does not feel will be overwhelming. The historical record will be distorted, because he will have pleaded guilty to something for which no guilty plea was required.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green
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(Mr. Duncan Smith) explained, the problem is that we have a piece of legislation that has been drafted for one purpose, but to which has been added the possible cases of servicemen and police officers. That is the wrong way to proceed.
Mr. Hain: As the issue has been raised, let me again say that a serving or retired soldierwhatever member of the security forces he may beis not forced to plead guilty at all. He can plead his innocence all the way through the process, through the special court or through the normal court procedurehe can choose either. The advantage of him choosing the special court procedure is that he can take advantage of not having to serve a prison sentence if he is found guilty. He may be acquitted, in which case there would be no stain on his character, just as there would not be following such a case in a normal Crown court.
For the record, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) is one of those who criticises this very provision. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) might want to ask himself why that is.
One argument that the Government have adduced in support of the Bill is that the provisions are part of, or a natural development from, the process, central to which has been the 1998 Belfast agreement. Indeed, in a number of interviews the Secretary of State explicitly linked the Bill to the precedent of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to justify the measure. However, as other hon. Members said, the measure appears nowhere in the 1998 agreement. It is a product of a bilateral side deal between the Government and Sinn Fein-IRA in 2001. That distinction is important because when it came to the legislation on early release, the Government relied heavily on what was said in the agreement and on the public endorsement of the agreement in the subsequent referendum.
Ironically, in view of the Secretary of State's argument about unresolved matters and additional things that needed to be done after the 1998 agreement, the Government rejected amendments to the 1998 Act which, in their opinion, were not consistent with the agreement that they had negotiated. Dr. Mowlam also said:
"If we cherry-picked and wrote extra provisions into the Bill that were not in the agreement, we would be departing from that agreement and would lose all moral authority to hold others fully to the commitments that they have made."[Official Report, 18 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 561.]
Mr. Duncan Smith: My hon. Friend is making great progress, but will he take up this one point with the Secretary of State? The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase that these were "unresolved issues." If they were not included in the Good Friday agreement as signed, agreed and voted for, they were resolved not to be on the table and were therefore settled. Is not that the point? They were settled issues, not unresolved issues.
Mr. Lidington: My right hon. Friend is correct. When the Secretary of State says that without the deal at Weston Park, we could not have seen an end to the IRA campaign of terror, the House has to ask how that squares when set against the undertaking by Sinn Fein in the 1998 agreement that henceforward it would rely exclusively on democratic and peaceful means to attain its objectives. The logic of the Secretary of State's argument is that we have to do this because we could not trust Sinn Fein to stick to the word solemnly given in the 1998 agreement, now bound into an international treaty.
The proposals have never been endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland. They are opposed not just by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats, but by the Democratic Unionists, the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. Only two parties support the Bill: Labour and Sinn Fein. I would have thought that that fact alone might have caused Ministers to pause before pursuing the route that they appear to have chosen.
Mr. Dodds: Was the hon. Gentleman struck, as I was, by the fact that during the entire length of the Secretary of State's opening remarks, there was not a single intervention from a Labour Member in support of the position adopted by the Government? Does not that tell us something?
Huw Irranca-Davies: The hon. Gentleman knows that many hon. Members have made passionate and heartfelt appeals, especially in terms of the victims, and that is right. Whatever Northern Ireland legislation is considered, the victims should be at the forefront because we have a duty to them. However, does he accept that there is also a duty to the wider community within Northern Ireland and to those people in England whose friends and families have suffered because of the bombings? That is what the Government are taking into account.
I am afraid that the truth is that a deal was madeI suspect between the Prime Minister and the leaders of IRA-Sinn Feinand successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland have been lumbered with a poisonous inheritance, with the parcel unfortunately landing in the lap of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain).
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It has been argued that the legislation is inextricably linked to getting the IRA to end its terrorist war and to enabling Northern Ireland to return to what the rest of us in Great Britain would regard as normality. The Secretary of State referred to the significance of the IRA's statement in July and its decommissioning announcement in September. His article in The Times yesterday contained a similar reference. I agree that both initiatives were important and welcome. My party and I want the republican movement to completeat last, belatedlythe much-promised transition from terrorism to democratic and peaceful politics, but I also want to be confident that that process is permanent and irreversible. I think that after three decades of killing and bombing, we are entitled to test the IRA's good intentions over a period of time before accepting that they can be trusted.
Only 12 months ago Sinn Fein-IRA were talking to the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) about a new agreement on power sharing, while at the same time, we now know, they were plotting the raid on the Northern bank. Progress has been madeI go along with the Secretary of State that farbut the trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow Ministers entertain none of the reservations on which other observers insist. Let us look at what has been said by the Independent Monitoring Commission, which is charged by Parliament and the Government with examining how the paramilitary groups are complying with their undertakings. The most recent IMC report, published in October this year, states that
We still have no commitment by Sinn Fein to support the police, nor any recognition of the legitimacy of the courts. The murderers of Robert McCartney have not been turned in; instead, his sisters have been driven from their homes by intimidation. Others exiled from Northern Ireland over the years by paramilitary threats are still unable to return home.
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