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Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was inconvenienced by what happened. I can only offer the immediate consoling thought that his inability to cast his vote did not have an effect on the result. The point that he raises is a serious one. Lifts are meant to be exclusively for the use of Members during a Division. I will ask the Serjeant at Arms to have the matter investigated so that neither the hon. Gentleman nor any other hon. Member is inconvenienced in future. I am obliged to him for raising the matter.
Mr. Campbell: I shall not stray from the subject matter, but I wish to emphasise the concern and alarm that is felt not just on the Democratic Unionist Benches but in Northern Ireland that pre-legislative scrutiny can be extended to any replacement of Diplock, but apparently not to the serious matter of on-the-runs, bearing in mind the fact that there is no need or desire for the OTR legislation to proceed at all, let alone with such haste.
The amendments aim to ensure that a message goes out from the House today that it is concerned that terror continues in Northern Ireland. Fewer people are being killed as a result of terrorism today than was the case 30 years ago, which is to be widely welcomed, and we will work towards the total elimination of terrorism from the streets of Northern Ireland, but sometimes Ministers imply that the Belfast agreement or some legislative process have of themselves led to a reduction in terrorism, and that those of us who oppose certain measures are in some way opposed to the improvement on the ground and the resultant improvement in the statistics. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
Having said that, terrorism does continue. Within the past few weeks we have had a number of serious incidents. An SDLP Member of the Legislative Assembly was terrorised in Strabane near the border with the Irish Republic. At the weekend in Londonderry, not one but
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two devices were planted at the home of an SDLP Member of the Legislative Assembly. Yesterday, we had the spectacle of the arrest of a Sinn Fein public representative, who I understand is being questioned in relation to the very serious matter of the bombing of the village of Claudy some 33 years ago. A Member of this House who has not taken his seat, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness), has admitted under oath to the Saville inquiry to being the second in command of the Provisional IRA in Londonderry at that time. But that is to digress, and I do not wish to do that.
The terrorism continues, albeit at a lower level, so there is a need for legislation to give a degree of assurance to people in Northern Ireland that whatever length of time terror continues there will be legislation to deal with it. That is why we have added four years to the expiry date, changing it from 2008 to 2012. That of itself would be a clear message to those who engage in terror that the legislative process will counter any of their activities.
In Committee, there was some indication that the legislation would be viewed by a number of people in Northern Ireland as restrictive. It is difficult to see how that could be casehow any law-abiding person could be adversely affected by the Bill. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell), who is not present today but was in the Committee, repeated areas of concernarrests or the Diplock courtsthat appeared to go back some 35 years and which may have been prevalent in the early 1970s but certainly could not be gauged to be prevalent today. There is simply no issue in the public domain in Northern Ireland now regarding those matters, and I hope that there will not be.
However, it is imperative that the Government assure the law-abiding sections of the two communities and others in Northern Ireland that legislation to deal with those who engage in violence, murder and terror, whether at a lower level, as it is at the moment, or at a higher level, as it was in earlier times, will be available to give them reassurance. That is the rationale behind the amendments. I hope that hon. Members on the Labour Benches would agree with the thrust of the argument that there is a need not just to reassure the law-abiding community, but to send out a message to those being held for questioning, convicted or arrested that the law will be sufficiently robust and of sufficient duration to ensure that action can be taken both through the process of arrest and the delivery of justice in the courts, albeit tempered with some of the qualifications that many in Northern Ireland have had to endure in recent years.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) and I agree with the intention of the amendments. My concern is that to extend the time scale is in a sense to plan for failure. At a time when the Government rightly seek to normalise the Province, surely it would be better for us to work on the assumption that by 1 August 2008 Northern Irish politics will have achieved some kind of normality. I do not oppose the amendments simply because the DUP voted against new clause 1; I do not hold such grudges. I note that other DUP Members intend to speak, so I would ask them to clarify why they feel that that extra four years is required and how they view the assertion that by extending it to 2012 one is in
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some sense building into the legislation the assumption that it will take another seven years for us to resolve the problems.
Mr. Donaldson : I will endeavour to address the questions that were raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), whom I am delighted to see in his place today, and our thoughts continue to be with him.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) has already said, we are not yet in a normal situation in Northern Ireland. It is not that we need politics to normalise; it is that we need society to normalise. We need to have the terrorist threat removed. No one would suggestthough at times I wonderthat we do not have a normal political system in the United Kingdom, and that this Parliament is part of that normal political process. Yet across the United Kingdom there is a threat from terrorism that has required the Government to introduce special legislation and enact special powers for the police and others to deal with that threat. So we are not talking about normalising, or the necessity to normalise, politics to remove the need for this legislation; it is about dealing with the threat from terrorism.
We have special provisions in Northern Ireland for our judicial system because it is not possible when there is a significant terrorist threat to operate a normal judicial system to deal with trials relating to terrorist activity. In the past, witnesses have been intimidated, and I am aware of many cases in which the prosecution collapsed because witnesses were intimidated by terrorist suspects and organisations. The potential remains for members of juries to be open to such intimidation, hence the need for the Diplock courts system.
If the Provisional IRA were to maintain a ceasefire, and if we were to receive evidence that it was not participating in further activity, either criminal or terrorist, it would not represent an end to terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, welcome though it would be. We have clear evidence, which is highlighted in the Independent Monitoring Commission reports, that the main loyalist paramilitary groups are engaged in ongoing terrorist activity, and the republican terrorist organisations are engaged in such activity, too.
The so-called Real IRA and the so-called Continuity IRA are both splinter groups from the Provisional IRA, and they both continue to be active. The Government's legislation dealing with the release of prisoners and the proscription of terrorist organisations specifies those organisations as being ineligible to receive the benefits of Government concessions, because, as the Government accept, they are continuing to engage in and prepare for acts of terrorismthe Government also accept that that is true of certain loyalist groups. Indeed, I recently participated in a Standing Committee that dealt with the specification of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which no longer benefits from certain Government concessions, because the Government have judged that it is continuing to engage in or prepare for acts of terrorism.
It is clear that there is a continuing threat from terrorism, and the judgment that must be made is how long we think that it might continue. At this stage, there is no evidence that the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA
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have any intention of ending their campaign of violence within the next two years, because they have not made a statement indicating that that is the case. We are aware that a debate is currently taking place within the mainstream loyalist groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association, and we will encourage them to move down the path to a peaceful existence and to ending their violence and crime for good, and we would like to see all armed terrorist groups in Northern Ireland do the same.
We must be prudent in planning ahead and provide for every eventuality. To borrow a phrase from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, we need an insurance policy, and I want an insurance policy that will not expire before a reasonable period has elapsed, which would allow real progress on ending all forms of terrorism in Northern Ireland. I have no basis for believing that that will happen within a two-year time frame, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry has tabled the amendment. The provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 are still needed in Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future. Extending the period specified in the Bill by a further four years is a prudent step that will provide a reasonable time frame in which to allow developments to take place, pressure to be applied and, I hope, those terrorist organisations that continue to engage in or prepare for acts of terrorism to see sense and endor for the security forces to bring to an endtheir terrorist campaigns.
I hope that I have addressed some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. I appreciate the desire to normalise society in Northern Ireland, but there is also a need to protect society and the judicial process in Northern Ireland. In recent days, we have seen that organisations that have declared that they have ended their involvement with violence still have the capacity to frustrate the judicial process. The Robert McCartney case is a clear example how the Provisional IRA has sought to frustrate the process of justice in recent timesin that case, by cleaning the murder scene and refusing to co-operate.
We must bear it in mind that the main republican movement in Northern Ireland still refuses to support the police and to recognise courts of law. Even those organisations that claim to have ended their campaigns still do not recognise the judicial process in Northern Ireland, and I therefore suggest that we still have some way to go. In those circumstances, our amendment is a reasonable and prudent safeguard. If the circumstances change within the four-year time frame, the amendment would not prevent the Government from returning to this House to seek to foreshorten the time scale and introduce new proposals. I urge the Government to reflect on the matter and not to end the provisions and safeguards for the judicial system prematurely.
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