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Mr. Donaldson: I was with Aileen Quinton when the Minister met her, by accident, in Central Lobby a couple of weeks ago. The Minister undertook to meet Miss Quinton before the Bill today. Did he do so?
Mr. Hanson: I have offered to meet victims. I met victims yesterday and I make an offer today to meet with any victims' groups. I also met police victims yesterday and I have said that I will continue to liaise with them. I have offered a meeting to the individuals concerned and will arrange to discuss the issues with them.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, the Bill was the result of discussions not as part of the Good Friday agreementwhich some hon. Members genuinely opposedbut after Weston Park in 2001 and 2003. It was notas my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) suggestedpublished secretly. It was a published document that was made available. It was also indicated at the time what steps the Government would take to bring the matter forward.
The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) asked, "Why now?" The Bill has been introduced now because part of the agreement and part of the building blocks for the agreement were to bring the IRA to the position it is now in, where it has made what I hope proves to be its historic statement in July.
I will not give way at this stage, because I wish to make some important points in limited time.
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My time to reply is limited because we wanted to give hon. Members an opportunity to make their points about the Bill.
We wanted to ensure that the Independent Monitoring Commissionwhose reports are being consideredhad the chance to recognise what the IRA has undertaken. As part of the political peace process and as part of the building blocks for that process, this measure has been introduced. And, yes, I do say to the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), to the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and to my hon. Friends for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and for Vauxhall, that we introduced the Bill at this time for those reasons.
The Bill, if it passes all its stages, will not come into effect until 2007 and we will have an opportunity to judge how the IRA performs between now and then. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said, we need to restore the institutions in Northern Ireland, so that local people can decide local priorities.
Mark Durkan: If the Minister is as concerned as he says he is about victims, why are the Government stabbing new grievances into victims' grief and calling it closure? In relation to the Minister's last comment that the Bill will pave the way for the restoration of the institutions, I ask what will not happen if the Bill is not passed? What will be denied us, in terms of the institutions and the agreement, if the Bill is not passed?
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend will be aware that part of the discussions at Weston Park and part of the reason that the Bill has been taken forward is because it was part of the building blocks to get people to make the statement in July in the first place.
I wish to make it clear for hon. Members on both sides of the House that there are tight eligibility criteria for the scheme. People cannot qualify for the scheme if they are members of Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, the UVF, the LVF or any specified organisation. They cannot be involved in terrorism now and qualify for the scheme. They cannot have been involved in offences after 10 April 1998 and qualify for the scheme. They cannot have received a sentence for any further crime and qualify for the scheme. That is an important aspect.
Some Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, the right hon. Members for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for East Hampshire, and the hon. Members for Aylesbury, for Foyle and for Montgomeryshire have called the measure an amnesty. That is a debatable point and people will argue about it, but individuals will come before a court, they will be prosecuted and could be found guilty; a situation where individuals could be subject to criminal prosecution and released on licence is not an amnesty as I understand it.
Several Members referred to non-appearance in court. That is a serious matter and it was raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, the hon. Members for North Down and for Montgomeryshire, my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle, for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and for Ochil and South Perthshire and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire. Non-appearance in court is a difficult issue. We have taken a judgment, because we want to get individuals through the scheme. We want them to qualify for the scheme, to come to account and to face justice as a result of a criminal record.
For the reasons that we have outlined we support the Bill as it stands, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said we shall examine amendments in Committee, tabled by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire or others. We shall consider what has been said on both sides of the House today, including the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen and others. We shall consider the issue in Committee and in another place, and reflect on the all the points that have been made.
There will be a tight licence under the legislation. If convicted individuals breach the licence, become members of, or involved in supporting, specified organisations get involved in terrorism or are convicted of other crimes, they will face recall and imprisonment. Under the early release scheme that we introduced, individuals have lost their licence and faced the consequences.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch asked about end dates for the scheme. The Secretary of State will have the power to set an end date and we shall consider that in due course unless the scheme comes to a natural end.
I want to mention two further issues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) and the right hon. Member for East Hampshire mentioned exile. The Government certainly do not support the process of exiling. It must end and we utterly condemn activities of groups on either side of the community that are aimed at intimidating individuals in Northern Ireland. I understand the concerns that have been expressed today. It is our intention to listen to suggestions during the passage of the Bill to ensure that we tackle the question of exiling and ensure that intimidation does not occur.
The second point relates to interaction with the historical inquiry team. It is not our intention, in any way, shape or form, to undermine the efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in reinvestigating old murders. Those investigations can take place until the Bill comes into effect. The PSNI can continue to pursue them, irrespective of their eligibility for the scheme. The Bill is about seeking justice, to ensure that individuals are given criminal records, that victims know who has committed the crime and that individuals are held on licence if they are convicted after 2007.
We have included the armed forces and security services because we feel that it would be unfair and impractical to hold an individual on a terrorist basis
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who could be released after 2007, whereas an individual from the military could be charged with a similar offence and find themselves in jail for that period.
This is part of the political peace process. It is the key to getting where we are today. It is the key to the future. It is the key to ensuring that there are no future victims in Northern Ireland. The Government's concern is to ensure that we do not create future victims. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.
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