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Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): I am worried about the Bill because it is extremely far reaching. On the surface, as we have heard, it will affect on-the-runs—members of the provos who may be suspected of serious crimes. However, other elements of the Bill deeply worry me. There are members of loyalist paramilitary groups, and there are renegade members of the special branch police and Army intelligence who colluded with, prompted and handled Ulster Volunteer Force killers and, indeed, a few from the IRA. Cases are ongoing and we shall hear information shortly about some of the activities in north Belfast when members of the UVF conducted operations with the knowledge of the security services in which they killed a number of innocent people—both Protestant and Catholic—just to keep themselves amused. Some of those people will be absolved by the Bill.

There were members of the security forces who acted outside the law. Hon. Members referred earlier to people acting within the laws of engagement, but I shall not go there at the moment. However, there were members of the security forces who acted above and beyond the laws of engagement and the normal instructions to which they operated. Again, some of those people will be wrapped up in the Bill. Hon. Members of all parties feel threatened by the Bill because it is a catch-all measure that will absolve a lot of people from facing justice and accounting to their victims.

I shall make only a couple of quick points because time is running out and other hon. Members wish to speak. It is fairly clear that the Bill does not stem from the agreement. It is an add-on and a side deal. Perhaps it was initiated by Gerry Adams and the provos, but even he dissociates himself from it and denies that he had much to do with it.

The Bill does not deal merely with people who were sought pre-1998, as the Prime Minister said yesterday; it applies to anyone who might be charged, now and in the future, for 2,100 unsolved murders. It is open-ended and limitless. Anyone who is guilty or associated in any way with any one of those 2,100 murders effectively gets cleared of it. That includes 300 state killings that were in some way suspicious.

Not only does the Bill deny the victims justice, but, worse than that, it denies them the very truth that they need for closure. As there is no time limit, those involved in killing those 2,100 people can sit in their living rooms while they wait in comfort to see whether the police ever come knocking on the door. If the police do come knocking, all those people have to do is apply, from the comfort of their homes or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) suggested, their holiday homes, for a certificate.

Sinn Fein specifically negotiated that those people do not even have to go to court. Regardless of Mr. Adams's denials, we are well aware of what happened. When the Bill was announced last week, Mr. Conor Murphy, another absent Member of the House, welcomed it before he had fully read it and realised what was in it. The contrast and distress for me—other hon. Members have made the same point, but it cannot be emphasised often enough—is that victims and police officers, under
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threat of penalty, can be compelled to turn up in court. Yet the perpetrators of some of those heinous crimes will not have to turn up.

My hon. Friend said that the SDLP will table amendments to undo the Bill's worst aspects. If we are talking just about a small number of people who are outside our jurisdiction, let us limit it to that. If that is the bitter pill that we have to swallow, let us swallow it, but let us not make the measure all-dancing, all-embracing and all-inclusive, so that we do not know where it will end up two or three years down the road. It has to be limited, tidy and exact. People have suffered—some for 20 years, some for 25 years, some for 30 years—and I pay tribute to my colleague, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), who expressed that well. People who have suffered are entitled to some closure, truth and honesty.

We have clarified that the deal was initiated as a separate side deal, starting at Weston Park and continuing at Hillsborough, between Sinn Fein and the Government. They did not involve us. We were often kept negotiating on something on the margins. All other parties were excluded from the discussions. The deal is far too vital for one-to-one negotiations, from which the vast majority of interests were excluded.

We warned of the dangers, but others went ahead. Time and again we made it clear that the deal was way outside the remit of the agreement and what people voted for in 1998. That is a matter of public record. We published different proposals on victims and the truth that is needed for victim satisfaction. We raised our concerns time and again in Downing street and with the two Governments. Our detailed proposals for the truth process for victims are a long way from any attempt to cover up, to exclude or to collude on the past, which is what is happening to a large extent.

Under separate legislation passed to implement the Good Friday agreement, on-the-runs would, at worst, have had to serve a maximum sentence of two years. Even if no one had to go to prison under this Bill, the victims—those who have suffered and whose lives can never be put together again, who are the main people in all this—should not be denied the truth, yet that is precisely what the legislation would do. My colleagues and I intend to propose as many amendments as we can to ensure that the innocent victims—some dead, but some still living and suffering—get a better deal than the Bill as it stands offers them. If we cannot get justice, we will work to ensure that at least they get the truth. To my mind, the Bill offers victims nothing—not even, as was suggested earlier, the limited benefits that victims got through the truth process in South Africa.

5.55 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Second Reading of this Bill, which I regard as so morally wrong, so morally bankrupt, that no amount of amendment—even if the Government wished to amend this wretched Bill—will ever get me to vote for it or support it. Judging by the speeches made this afternoon, I am not alone.

I should, of course, declare a particular interest in the Bill in that I am married to a former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. If Sir Jack were well, he would be appalled by what the Government—his
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Government—have presented to the House today. As right hon. and hon. Members—I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)—probably all know, Sir Jack has Alzheimer's. Today is his birthday. He is not aware that it is his birthday, but it is the reason why I always remember the date on which the George cross was awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It was rightly, though belatedly, awarded to mark the courage, dedication and sacrifice of 302 dead officers—302 police officers. It grieves me—as I know it would grieve Jack if he were aware of it, but as I said, mercifully he is not—that the Government are proposing that the murderers of policemen and women in Northern Ireland will never have to stand in court or face any tribunal; they will never have to apologise, put their hand up and say, "I'm sorry. I have done wrong." The Bill as it stands will never require them to do that. It must not leave this House without the firm requirement that whoever is guilty of perpetrating the most heinous of crimes, against not only police officers but the innocent people who were in La Mon House and the relatives and friends of the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), be held to account.

All those people deserve the right to life to be respected as much in Northern Ireland as it will be respected in the rest of the United Kingdom. I say that as one who, once upon a time, was proud of the Government, when they made the European convention on human rights part and parcel of our domestic law. I was proud because the Government sent out the message to the world—not just to Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom, but to the world—that they respected human rights, the right to life and the right of everyone within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom to an effective remedy for breaches of that convention.

The Bill proposes a certification commissioner—a wonderful title. I have no idea what it means, apart from being the title of the person who will recommend an amnesty for people who have committed the most terrible crimes. It also creates a special tribunal, a special appeal and a special prosecutor. My goodness, what an array of new appointments and gimmicks. I apologise to whoever takes up one of those offices for referring to them as gimmicks, but I mean it—it is gimmickry. It is not an adequate and effective remedy for those who have suffered through the years in Northern Ireland. I am ashamed and deeply embarrassed that my Government have introduced the Bill.

I appreciate the fact that the Secretary of State met the widows and families of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers, but with respect, he and his fellow Ministers cannot appreciate the depth of hurt and the enormous trauma experienced by a family when someone's life is taken by terrorist bombing and killing. Having spoken to RUC widows and families, I am sure that they would tell the Secretary of State that the first injury caused by losing a loved one was dreadful. I can tell him with confidence, as I am sure they have already told him, that the second injury is caused by their own Government giving an amnesty to those murderers, which is as deeply affecting and upsetting as the first injury.

I made a rather cross intervention on the Secretary of State—I apologise, but I was annoyed; there is a great deal of anger in the House this afternoon—to emphasise the fact that the Home Secretary and successive Home Secretaries have spoken in the House about increasing
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and improving public confidence in the criminal justice system. People in Bangor, Belfast and North Down are just as entitled to confidence in the criminal justice system and equality before that system as people in north Wales, north London and Bradford—unfortunately, that city comes to mind, because we collectively have lost another police officer, and I am terribly sorry about the death of that young woman. It is on the record that when the Criminal Justice Bill was proceeding through the House in 2003, the Home Office wrote to all Members serving on the Bill Committee to say that, under its provisions, Northern Ireland should not be perceived as becoming

Has the Secretary of State discussed the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in detail with the Home Office, because the special tribunal, the certification commissioner, the special appeal tribunal and the special prosecutor probably amount, in his mind at least, to a trial? He has been trying to persuade the rest of us of that case without success, bar with a few hon. Members.—[Interruption.] With one hon. Member, in fact. If that is the case, will he confirm that where there is new and compelling evidence against anyone who benefits from the legislation, whether they are loyalist or republican paramilitaries or anyone else, there is joined-up thinking in the Government so that if there is new DNA evidence or if witnesses come forward, the Home Secretary's assurance to me that Northern Ireland would not be a safe haven for criminals means that those people can face another trial at any time in the future? The legislation does not come into force until 2007, and I should like a categorical assurance in the House that the Government will not obstruct the police if they wish to bring before the courts anyone found guilty of any crime in Northern Ireland.

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