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Mr. Hain: The hon. Lady is characteristically persuasive. I can give that categorical assurance. Any police investigation will continue, and will be pursued however the police wish to pursue it prior to the implementation of the legislation.

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful for that assurance from the Secretary of State. I would like the additional assurance that if, in the Government's mind, the provisions of the Bill amount to a trial, the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which extends to Northern Ireland and drives a coach and horses through the old common law rule against double jeopardy, will apply. The Government legislated for Northern Ireland to assure the people of Northern Ireland that where new and compelling evidence becomes available at a later date, even if there had been a previous trial, as will happen if the Bill goes through, those who escape facing the courts and proper justice under the Bill will still be prosecuted under the Criminal Justice Act. I should be enormously grateful for such an assurance, which would go some way towards alleviating the great annoyance, anger and bitterness created by an unnecessary Bill being driven through the House.

Mr. Hain: I probably need to write to the hon. Lady to provide the clarity that she needs in response to her question.
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Lady Hermon: I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State. I should be pleased if he would place a copy of his letter in the Library for the benefit of all other hon. Members who need guidance on the matter.

As I said at the beginning, no amount of amendment will ever improve this morally reprehensible Bill. I am ashamed of the Government for bringing it before the House.

6.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) in a compelling objection to a very bad Bill. It was all the more impressive on what must be a sensitive date for her. She followed the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) who, like her, has immense experience of the Province. They have both reached exactly the same conclusion. I hope that when Members vote tonight, they will bear that in mind.

I welcome the Secretary of State back to the Treasury Bench. It is right that he has been away talking to victims, but may I update him a little on what has been happening in the Chamber? We have been debating the Bill for the best part of five hours and, apart from his predecessor, quite understandably, saying a few words of faint praise for the Bill, no other Member has done so, except for a strange speech from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), who read a handout from the Whips Office. It was a painful experience.

We have had some exceptional speeches from Labour Members—from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who has many objections to the Bill and spoke for the first time, I think, in a Northern Ireland debate with considerable wisdom. It is even more significant for the Secretary of State that every democratic party in Northern Ireland is opposed to his Bill. We had powerful speeches from the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and from the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan). Surely they should be listened to.

I watched the Secretary of State carefully, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) that he spoke with patience, allowed us a considerable number of interventions and proved again that he is a proper Member of the House of Commons and a true parliamentarian. However, in the 25 years that I have been in the House, I have never seen a Secretary of State so isolated on Second Reading. I have never seen so few Government Members speaking in support of a Bill. I have never seen the Benches so thin.

It is a sad day and I genuinely feel sorry for the Secretary of State, but I do not believe that it is his fault—the fault lies elsewhere. At this late stage, he needs to consider not just that every party in the House is against the Bill, and not just that every democratic and peace-loving Member from Northern Ireland is against the Bill, but that so are the Police Federation for Northern Ireland and the victims to whom he has just been speaking.
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Will the Secretary of State cast his mind back to a little earlier today to Prime Minister's Question Time when we were fortunate—the ballot sometimes works in mysterious ways—that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) had Question 1, which was a very significant question, the Prime Minister's answer to which was deeply inadequate? It will be recalled that a little later during Prime Minister's Question Time there was a moving question from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), who rightly mourned the police officer who was tragically murdered in his city at the weekend. Most of us find it difficult to understand the difference between bringing to justice those who murdered the police officer in Bradford, those who committed awful atrocities on 7 July in this city, and those who will, in effect, have an amnesty under this legislation.

We also find it bizarre—the Secretary of State rather lost his timing—that the Bill was published and received its First Reading two weeks ago, at the same time as the Terrorism Bill was being pursued. Does he not feel that there is something slightly wrong about trying to lock up people for 90 days without charging them on the one hand and giving this complete amnesty on the other hand? Did it not make it worse for the victims in Northern Ireland that that was happening at exactly the same time?As I say, I want to be fair to the Secretary of State because he knows that I have respect for him, but it was deeply insensitive for it to be happening at exactly the same time.

The Secretary of State mentioned closure again and again. I am afraid that that has become a meaningless word—and if he would take a little advice from me, it would be best not to use it again. I am sure that he now regrets saying that the main reason for the legislation is that the courts are log-jammed and it will help. That cannot be a satisfactory reason for bringing forward legislation that will do such harm.

Why is the legislation going ahead? We have established that it is absolutely nothing to do with the Belfast agreement, which the Minister of State and I supported. We have established from the Secretary of State that there has been no threat from Sinn Fein and the IRA that violence will be resumed if the legislation does not go ahead. We have heard from the hon. Member for North Down, who is an expert on human rights, that we could well be in breach of human rights legislation and be taken to the European Court of Human Rights if we proceed. So just why are we going ahead with the Bill at such a pace? Just what happened at Weston Park in private? What deal was done between the Prime Minister and Sinn Fein-IRA? We need to be told before we decide to vote tonight. If no deal was done, there is no sense in proceeding with a Bill that has been so mauled during its Second Reading debate and has so little support. Even at this late hour, I hope that the Minister will withdraw the Bill and consider it further, possibly in a Special Standing Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire suggested.

This is a very bad Bill, but today has been a very good day for Parliament in the way that it has been debated.

6.13 pm

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in this evening's debate. I agree entirely that this has been a debate of a
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very high standard, and many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken with considerable passion. At a personal level, I should say how much I admire the contribution made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik)—I know how difficult it must be for him to be here today—and say from his many friends in Northern Ireland that we very much appreciate the contribution that he has made to the debate today.

I cannot say the same to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks), who will not be surprised by that. Whenever he ascends to the high office to which he undoubtedly aspires, I hope that he realises that some things in life are more important than political ambition. There are high principles in politics and justice that are worth preserving, and his contribution to this debate did nothing to persuade any of us that he understands those principles in the context of the Bill. I hope that he will take the time to come to Northern Ireland and meet some of the victims groups, and I certainly intend to send a copy of his speech to all the victims groups with which I am in contact. The central theme of his speech was, "It is time to move on and get over it." I hope that he will have the courage of his convictions and visit Northern Ireland to tell people that to their faces. I do not think that he has the slightest understanding of the hurt and pain that the Bill is causing in Northern Ireland.

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who spoke with considerable passion about the sense of injustice felt by RUC widows. I know that many of the other victims in Northern Ireland, such as the families of police officers and of Ulster Defence Regiment, Royal Irish Regiment and Army soldiers, share that sense of injustice. Indeed, the issue is not confined to Northern Ireland, because the families of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland have been denied justice, too. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) reminded us, many hundreds of civilians also lost their lives in the course of the troubles.

As has been said, the issue was not included in the Belfast agreement. I was involved in the negotiations leading up to the agreement, which I voted against for a number of reasons, including the provisions on the early release of terrorist prisoners. Nowhere in the agreement is there a justification for the Bill. Indeed, in an earlier response to an intervention, the Secretary of State acknowledged that the deal that he has done with Sinn Fein does not emanate from the agreement, although the Prime Minister has sought to draw such parallels. The argument has been advanced that the Bill is unfinished business and that we need it to achieve closure, but I respectfully inform the Secretary of State that in my opinion it will not achieve closure for many of the victims in Northern Ireland.

Last Thursday evening, my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) and I met a large number of victims from south Armagh and Fermanagh, which are the areas with the largest number of unsolved murders in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of murders in which the perpetrators have not been brought to justice were committed in south Armagh and Fermanagh.
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I do not like to single out individuals, but may I say how much I admire Miss Aileen Quinton's contribution to this debate? She lost her mother in the poppy day massacre in Enniskillen in 1987, which the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), mentioned earlier. I have heard Aileen conduct radio interviews, and she has shared her views in the national media with considerable dignity. The strength of her argument on this issue is unanswerable: Aileen, like so many of the victims who have suffered as a result of the troubles in Northern Ireland, feels that she will suffer doubly because of the injustice caused by this Bill.

We want a process of healing in Northern Ireland so that we can move forward. I would say to the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire that I want to move forward, but I do not want us to trample over the rights of victims in our haste to do so. We must bring people with us. Dealing with the sense of injustice is part of the process of healing. Peace is not created by injustice.

The problem with the Bill is that it will lead to injustice. Some of the victims—this was expressed to us very clearly when we met victims' groups—will be re-traumatised as a result of this process. There is indignation that the perpetrators can remain anonymous throughout the process and do not have to appear before a tribunal to account for their crimes. It is an aberration to describe that as justice or due process. That simply does not wash with people in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the legacy of the Bill will be that murder, intimidation and terrorism have proved successful for individuals who have engaged in such activities.

The Secretary of State made it clear that the purpose of the Bill is to meet a demand that has been made by Sinn Fein-IRA. That demand is coming from nowhere else but one source, and one source only. I accept that not only Her Majesty's Government but the Irish Government are party to the agreement that has been reached. The Irish Government are happy to support a deal that permits the murderers of RUC officers to walk free, yet say in their own jurisdiction that the men who murdered Garda Jerry McCabe will not benefit from the process. The hypocrisy of that position shows the extent to which double standards are applied in dealing with Sinn Fein-IRA. Of course, I do not wish the murderers of Jerry McCabe to benefit. I have met Garda McCabe's widow—a fine woman who has shown much courage in highlighting her case in the Irish Republic. Today, we met the widows and family members of RUC officers who were murdered and they cannot understand why that double standard should apply.

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