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Mr. Woodward: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The purpose of the Bill is simple. It will continue in force the vast majority of part 7 provisions until July 2007. The counter-terrorism provisions are targeted at the particular threat that still, regrettably, arises in Northern Ireland. Without the Bill they would expire in February next year. There have been significant developments in the past few months that give us confidence that security normalisation can be achieved within two years. However, we are not at that point yet, and it is therefore right that we extend these provisions until the end of the normalisation programme.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): It might be possible for the Minister to argue, although I would not accept his case, that there have been noises from the Provisional IRA, but on what basis does he argue that there is any indication among the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Freedom Fighters, the Real IRA or the Continuity IRA that they are bringing their so-called war to an end?

Mr. Woodward: Let us not be pejorative or trivialise the historic statement made on 28 July. Let us remember that that was not just noises. It was an extremely important moment—I accept that it was a moment—in the difficulties of Northern Ireland, and the act of decommissioning that subsequently took place was highly significant. Whatever may be said about anything else, we would all be making a mistake if we did not recognise the historic significance and described it as "noises".
 
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The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that he should take no lectures from anyone who was not elected in Northern Ireland. I understand that, but, with the responsibility that we have, we judge that there have been significant improvements in the security situation in Northern Ireland, and on that basis we have reached the judgment that it is appropriate to renew the provisions, but only until July 2007. We recognise that the situation by then may not allow them to expire, so the safety net of a further 12 months is required.

Let us not forget the assurance that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have given in the House and elsewhere that if the extension for a further 12 months is required, and if in the summer of 2008 the security situation does not allow for the provisions to cease to have effect, the Secretary of State will review the situation again in order to provide reassurance to people in Northern Ireland.

The counter-terrorism provisions are targeted at the particular threat that continues to arise in Northern Ireland. There have been significant developments, but we think it is right to extend the provisions until the end of the normalisation programme. Many members have stressed the need for caution in our approach, and the Government entirely agree with those who urge caution. That is why we are not dispensing with the powers in February, and why the Bill includes a power to extend the provisions for a further year, should that be required.

I return for a moment to Lord Carlile, that touchstone of debate this afternoon. He agrees with us that

The House should be in no doubt that the first priority for the Government is and always will be the safety and security of the citizens of Northern Ireland. We will ensure that the police and other agencies that have provided and continue to provide protection to the people of Northern Ireland have the tools necessary to do the job. That includes, for the foreseeable future, section 108. As a matter of principle, we believe that if the police want that as a tool for prosecutions, it should be available to them, as it is in the Republic. It is important to note that they will continue to have at their disposal the permanent provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000 and other legislation. This framework collectively gives the UK the strongest and most effective counter-terrorism legislation in the world.

Before closing, I would like to express my thanks to all those involved in proceedings on the Bill. I thank those who have joined the debate in the Chamber and I pay credit to the constructive manner in which it has been conducted. I am grateful to all hon. Members who served on the Committee for the manner in which they made their contributions. The Committee considered the Bill quite rapidly, and that is testament to the almost universal support in the House for its primary purpose, which is to continue in force the provisions beyond February 2006.

We have also managed to explore and discuss some important issues of detail about the legislation, not least what ought to replace Diplock courts in the future. I am extremely pleased that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will consider that later next year in a pre-
 
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legislative scrutiny exercise, as set out by the Secretary of State this morning in his letter to the Chairman of the Committee. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), he should take it on trust that this Secretary of State will ensure that the Select Committee scrutinises those powers.

Lembit Öpik: I am grateful for the Minister's reassurance, but I and other hon. Members are on to our fifth Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, so is he giving us an assurance that whoever may hold that office is committed, ex officio, to ensuring that that pre-legislative scrutiny occurs?

Mr. Woodward: Absolutely; there is no question about that. It is important to consider the context. The Secretary of State wants us to achieve bipartisan support. Peace in Northern Ireland will be achieved only by consensus, and it is in that context that the Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee today.

The Government recognise that a serious risk of jury intimidation remains in a small number of cases. I can assure the House that we will put in place whatever arrangements are necessary to ensure the continuing effectiveness of the criminal justice system. The only question in our minds will be whether it can be done better. The standard by which everyone should approach the pre-legislative scrutiny of Diplock courts next year is whether the system can be bettered.

Finally, I should like to express our gratitude to the independent reviewer of the Terrorism Act. He considered the Bill in a letter submitted to me that was placed in the Library of the House. His letter and his reports on the operation of the Act have played an invaluable role in informing our debates on the Bill.

The Bill reflects both the confidence that the Government have in the normalisation process and the prudence that is required when dealing with the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. I commend it to the House.

4.22 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson: I begin by returning my thanks to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with the Bill. I raised a couple of issues in Committee, which by their detailed nature required him to write to me, and he duly did, explaining the situation fully. As a result, I did not pursue the matters further.

I think that I can speak for a number of hon. Members when I say that there is some confusion about how the Government assess the situation in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, we have the on-the-runs legislation, which suggests that the bad situation that we have had in Northern Ireland for so very long is coming to an end. On the other hand, we have Bills such as this, which by their very introduction would suggest that the situation in Northern Ireland is not as it should be.

The Opposition regret the need to introduce the Bill. We wish that we had normality in the Province. On every occasion I have visited the Province over many years, it has been made clear that one of the very things that people want is to be treated normally, both
 
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politically and with regard to the security situation. However, we accept that it is not possible at the moment to move towards that.

As a number of hon. Members have said, particularly those from the DUP, there is great concern at the fact that the violence continues. The nature of the violence has changed, but the violence continues. I quoted the recent IMC report in Committee, and I shall quote it again:

That is a great concern. The report continues:

Those words are sufficient to chill most people. Such comments are very worrying, and I think that they persuaded DUP Members to press their amendment, which suggested that the provisions of the Terrorism Act should be extended not only to 2008, but to 2012.


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