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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): When we think about Northern Ireland, many words come to mind—"courage" being one in so many instances. Before I deal with the Bill, perhaps I can be allowed to stray for a moment to speak of the courage of the hon.
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Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). His must have been a very difficult speech to make, but he made it with his usual commitment to the issue. He will take this in the spirit in which I mean it: he has far more friends in this place than his modesty would allow him to think. I know that he will also take this in the spirit in which I mean it. He is a man with a great sense of humour, and his great strength of character will allow him to come through these difficult times. Every Member looks forward to the eventual return of the humour for which he is well known. He is a great Member of Parliament.

This has been a very passionate debate. I have been in the House for only eight years, but I cannot think of a time when I have seen the Government under so much fire from every corner of it. We heard a very effective speech from the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who says that he hopes the Government will consider serious amendments to the Bill, and will consider other people rather than just republicans. I think that I quote him accurately.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said that the Bill undermined assurances given about prisoners during the agreement referendum campaign. He also made the important point that loyalist terrorists have not decommissioned, yet they will benefit from the Bill.

The right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke with his usual passion. He fairly said that the Bill introduces two systems of justice in Northern Ireland, but I suspect that he would accept that one of those systems is not justice at all.

As usual, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) spoke extremely well. She pointed out that, in opposition, the Labour party did not always support anti-terrorism legislation. She asked why, if the IRA is no longer a threat, we need the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) said that there are too many concessions in the Bill and that they all point one way. He provided a moving personal account of the difficulties that he had faced in one instance as a Minister. He argued that the Bill might well lead to Ministers having to take more difficult decisions, perhaps compromising victims' rights time and again.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) expressed great concern about the lack of any deadline in the Bill and the absence of any need for the accused to appear in court.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) spoke about the great injustices of the Bill. He rightly pointed out that, because of the limit on the amount of evidence that can be gathered, it assists in the achievement of non-guilty verdicts by the accused. He spoke movingly about the events that propelled him into politics, which are highly relevant to the issues surrounding the Bill.

Even the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks)—I shall be kinder than others about him—expressed concern about the fact that the accused do not have to appear in court and about the ability of the court to subpoena witnesses, but not those who are accused.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) reminded us, in a wide-ranging speech, that the people that we are talking about in the
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context of the Bill are just as evil as those who bombed London. He provided a good analogy when he said that on-the-run mass murderers and terrorists from Bosnia would not be given a certificate for freedom.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) spoke about the need to provide victims with justice and truth. Indeed, he felt that the Bill lets those victims down.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) expressed shame at the Government for introducing the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) appropriately asked exactly what deal was done at Weston Park.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) spoke about the real hurt caused in Northern Ireland by the Bill. He pointed out that the Government said only a week ago that Opposition Members should have listened to police officers in respect of proposals for 90 days, yet police officers are clearly being ignored in respect of this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr.    Robathan), who, along with some other colleagues, served in Northern Ireland, made a hard-hitting speech. He condemned the concessions that it seems the Government are making.

It is important to ask why we need the Bill. The Government have not provided the answer to that question. Who is the Bill for? It is certainly not for the victims, who do not want it. The only political party in favour of the Bill is Sinn Fein. It is rather alarming that the Government are prepared to negotiate with Sinn Fein but will not negotiate with constitutional parties about amendments to the Bill. The Secretary of State said that there was an agreement with the Irish Government, but they are certainly not implementing the terms of the Bill.

As hon. Members have already asked, what will result if the Bill is defeated? Let us suppose that it does not get through Parliament: what are the Government afraid will happen? The Government say that they believe the IRA when it says that the war is over. That leads me to the question of why the Bill should be introduced now. If the war is perhaps not over, is not the Bill premature?

We have heard the IRA statement and subsequent confirmation that the IRA has put its arms beyond use, but I am not aware that it has put the proceeds of the bank robbery beyond use. As far as I know, the Government still hold the IRA responsible for that robbery, as do the Irish Government and the police in Northern Ireland. While the IRA has the means to rearm and to pay its volunteers, is not the Bill at least premature?

The Secretary of State spoke about closure—what he described in his article in The Times yesterday as the end game. The Good Friday agreement makes it clear that its participants believe that the aims of the criminal justice system should be to

I do not think that we can say that this Bill has the confidence of all parts of the community when it comes to the so-called justice that it will deliver.
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I shall give a very brief analogy. A few years ago, I and some other hon. Members visited Rwanda, where there had been the most awful genocide. I walked through the bones and skulls of some of the victims of that genocide, and then attended one of the court sessions. About 850,000 people had been massacred, and I said to the Justice Minister, "We have all these courts set up, and we are going to send people to prison, yet we are talking about reconciliation. Can we get the reconciliation if we go down that path?"

What a naive question for me to ask. The Justice Minister said, "We have to have the justice before we can have the reconciliation." That is the point that hon. Members of all parties have tried to make today.

The Secretary of State said that we can never bring an end to the victims' hurt. That may be true, but we can make that hurt worse. I suspect that that is what the Bill will do.

The Secretary of State did not help the process with his article in The Times. He wrote that those returning would face the prospect of a "full legal process", but that is untrue, as they will not have to appear in court. He added that they would have to go through a special court before being let out on licence, but let out of where, let out of what? Those people will not have been inside for a single day. What a misleading article it was.

There is not time for me to go through all the Bill's flaws, as I want to give the Minister an appropriate time in which to respond, but I will say that I see the Bill as yet another concession to the IRA. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby asked, what will the next concession be? What will provoke it? Will it be that the IRA starts to make threatening noises again? That is unacceptable in a democracy.

I do not mean this as a personal comment to the Minister, but he will not be surprised to hear that we will take this Bill very seriously if it reaches Committee.

6.48 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I appreciate the tone of today's debate. This is a difficult subject, with lots of raw emotion. I hope that the House will understand if I limit the number of interventions that I take, as I have only a short time in which to respond to a long debate in which very serious issues were raised. However, to show that the Government are not afraid of debate, I point out to the House that the programme motion—which I hope will be approved—allows for a long discussion in Committee. I assure hon. Members that I shall welcome prolonged consideration, and that provision has been made to allow the Committee's deliberations to go beyond the normal period.

I found the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) very moving and honest. I appreciate the effort he made to come to the House in today's difficult circumstances. On behalf of the Government and Labour Members, I want to express to him and his family our condolences at his loss.

I am also grateful to hon. Members of all parties for their efforts in addressing the very difficult issues associated with the Bill. I hope that I will have an opportunity to deal with some of the matters that have been raised, but I shall start with the question of victims. That subject has been at the heart of many of the contributions made today.
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No one could have listened to the speeches of the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) or for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson), or to the very moving contributions from the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and for North Down (Lady Hermon), without thinking of the victims of the crimes that are the subject of the Bill before the House. I had the opportunity to meet victims, including Aileen Quinton and Willie Frazer, when the Bill was published two weeks ago. Yesterday, I also looked in the eyes of widows of policemen who had been killed in a brutal and cowardly way by members of the IRA. I have also met the children and parents of people who have been killed and seen the dignity with which they carry themselves. Nobody in this House can understand their pain, and nor can we look those people in the eye without recognising the further pain that this Bill will bring.

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