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Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the asymmetry between the Bill's provisions and those that apply to prisoners released under earlier legislation. Those released under earlier legislation were questioned by the police and fingerprinted, and had to appear in court. None of those requirements will apply to suspects under this Bill.
Mr. Robinson: Under previous legislation, those people had been through the courts, been found guilty and convicted, and had been put in prison, where some of them then served a considerable part of their sentence. All of them had a minimum sentence that they had to serve. There is no symmetry between those arrangements and the Bill's proposals. If there is to be symmetry, the Government will have to table an amendment to the effect that people will have to serve a sentence of at least two years.
Under clause 7, the prosecutor will be asked to take half-baked cases into court, and the inevitable upshot of this crackpot scheme will be not-guilty verdicts. I wonder whether that is what the Government want.
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I was propelled into active politics after a school friend of mine was murdered by the Provisional IRA. He had just left school and was in his first job. The IRA bombed the premises of the Electricity Board for Northern Ireland, for which he worked. He was just a teenager, and his life was taken from him. No one has ever been found guilty of having planned that operation, but a Member who has not taken his Oath in this House was in charge of the Provisional IRA for the area in which this person was bombed and killed.
One evening in 1978, shortly after I became an elected representative, I was preparing to go out when I heard a very loud bomb explode. The target was close by. As it transpired, it was the La Mon House hotel. I went immediately to the site, and I witnessed the most horrific scenes. The bombers had hung their device on the security grille over the hotel window, and attached a large can of petrol to it. When the bomb was detonated, it sent a huge fireball through the hotel, incinerating all those in its path. Twelve innocent people were burned alive in that attack. Their charred remains were a gruesome image, and all who saw it will carry that image in their minds for the rest of their lives. What was their crime? They were attending an evening dinner with the Irish Collie club, a dog club. Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned about the attack, and was later released. The Bill will ensure that no one spends a single day in prison for those murders.
Mrs. Iris Robinson : As my hon. Friend knows, I have been dealing with the victims of the La Mon atrocity for some years, because it happened in my constituency. I asked in the House for a public inquiry, but sadly it was refused. I think that the refusal was based on the fact that, as my hon. Friend said, Gerry Adams's fingerprints were all over that atrocity, and he was arrested in the back hills of Castlereagh some time after it. What rights does my hon. Friend think the victims will receive under the Bill if the Government achieve their objective?
Mr. Peter Robinson : Under the Government's proposals, victims will have very few rights. In certain circumstances, they will have the ability to be informed that the case is being considered by the certification officer and will therefore go before the special tribunal. My hon. Friends and I will table amendments that would insert victims' rights into the Bill. They would allow time-limiting of the use of the application system for the terrorists, and open up the system to victims so that, if necessary, cases could be heard in absentia. That would give victims real closure, and those responsible for the crimes would have to serve their sentences.
I could list a catalogue of cases for which no one has yet been convicted, but I believe that I have made my point. We are not dealing with some tidying-up exercise. We are dealing with lives that have been cruelly and abruptly ended by evil terrorists, and we are dealing with the lives of those who loved them and who are now also victims. We are dealing with people whose hopes and dreams were crushed, and whose lives have been destroyed. We are dealing with decades of hurt and pain.
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The Government have not produced the Bill because they think it right, decent or just. They have produced it because in 2001 at Weston Park and in 2003 at Hillsborough castle they made a shabby deal with the IRA. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is not slow to point out to us all that it is never right to do wrong. This Bill is very wrong.
There are those who say that if we do not support the Bill, the IRA will go back to bombing and shooting. Is that where this great nation stands? Are we so craven and unprincipled that we cower before a bunch of corner boys and thugs who make demands of us? Are we cringing into submission because savage murderers demand that we throw out due process and British justice, or they will not co-operate with us?
Justice is a two-way street. It brings punishment to those who cause suffering, and closure to those who have suffered as a consequence. Victims have rights too. Both the European convention on human rights and the United Nations convention against torture require the United Kingdom Government to provide victims with an effective remedy. The Bill is a violation of those rights, and if this House and the other place enact it, the Government can be sure that, as a result of their defiance of those conventions, they will face a challenge in the courts.
Members can complicate the issue if they wish, but tonight's Division will show whether they are on the side of appeasing terrorists or on the side of the victims. It will show whether Members are on the side of due process or on the side of a sleazy deal. It will show whether they believe in the separation of powers, or whether they support the Government usurping the functions of the courts. The Bill is immoral, obscene, cruel and unjust. I urge the House to decline to give it a Second Reading.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I would like to set out the background to the Bill as I see it. Since 1997, we have come a long way. In 1998, we had the Good Friday agreement, leading to the early release of 440 prisoners, and we have also had devolved government. With only 14 early releases being returned to jail for breach of the licence conditionsa 97 per cent. success rateit would appear that the action has been significantly successful.
Even though devolved government has proved to be difficult to uphold, 1998 and 1999 saw the Patten commission producing a raft of proposals relating to crime and policing. Today, of course, we have heard much about Weston Park in 2001, when the commitment was reiterated to move the peace process forward. Consideration of on-the-runs seemed to emerge from that. In 2004, we had the Independent Monitoring Commission and this year saw the IRA statement ending the armed struggle. September then saw the historic act of decommissioning. Even more
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recently, we have seen the ending of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Loyalist Volunteer Force feud and the LVF's decision to stand down.
Every one of those matters has been difficultdifficult for the Government, difficult for Northern Ireland political parties and difficult for the people of Northern Irelandbut each has moved the peace process forward and improved the stability and quality of life in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is, I believe, a better place in 2005 than it was in 1997, and there has been a 40 per cent. reduction in security-related incidents since 1997. In parallel, unemployment has dropped by 54 per cent. Many, both within and outside the House, should feel a good deal of satisfaction and pride for their role in delivering increased prosperity and stability to Northern Ireland. In view of the steps that I have outlined, it is arguably the case that the Bill is, as the Secretary of State has argued, an evolution of everything that has gone on before.
In 2002, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), said in a written answer to the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson):
"The Government have acknowledged that there is an issue concerning fugitives on the run who would stand to benefit from the early release scheme if they were convicted. As part of the package of measures proposed at Weston Park last July the Government made a commitment to take steps to resolve this issue."[Official Report, 11 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 705W.]
The Bill includes a number of challenging areas, which I would like to deal with. First, some people oppose the Bill on points of principle. While I respect that viewpoint, I do not have to agree with it. For real progress to be made, difficult issues have to be faced and tough decisions taken. That certainly applies to the passage of the Bill.
I acknowledge that many victims and their families will have difficulties with the proposals, but I would like to make two points. First, the Bill provides a real opportunity to bring closure to many crimesnot for the victims, but for the crimesand provides specific obligations, as we have heard, in respect of a certification commissioner and special prosecutor to provide a point of liaison for victims, to keep them informed of relevant cases and to see the concerns of victims as central to the role. Furthermore, the requirement for the certification commissioner to put an annual report before Parliament provides an additional level of scrutiny, which I hope is welcomed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
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