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Mr. Bellingham: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government said that there was a huge urgency about the on-the-runs legislation? If they are offering the concession of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Diplock courts, why on earth could they not do the same for the on-the-runs provisions? It makes no sense whatever that they did not; frankly, it is downright inconsistent.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I believe that all Opposition Members publicly—and perhaps Labour Members privately—recognise that a deal was done unilaterally between the Prime Minister and Sinn Fein, and we are all trying to pick up the pieces. If I am honest, I do not blame the Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the difficulty with the on-the-runs, but the lesson for this Bill is that if the Government are going to make promises of cross-community, cross-party scrutiny of legislation before its publication, those promises must be kept; otherwise, the Government will reap the kind of resentment, bitterness and resistance that resulted from the on-the-runs legislation. To the credit of the Minister, he has given us assurances, in a sober and measured way, that go a little bit further than what I have heard before to reassure me that those commitments will be kept.

I want to finish on the matter with which we began our Second Reading debate. It is the contradiction between how the Government choose to approach terrorism in Northern Ireland and terrorism on an international basis. I support the Bill in its present form—with the reservations that I have highlighted—sufficiently to vote for it, should there be a Division tonight, but I find it extraordinary that there is no joined-up thinking between the Government's attempts to normalise life in Northern Ireland and what they are seeking to do to normalise life in the post-9/11 world in which we find ourselves. It is perhaps a vain hope that we can educate the Government to see those contradictions, however, because I believe that they would secretly admit that there is an utter contradiction in providing concessions to and negotiating, sometimes directly, with the paramilitary organisations in the Province, while thinking that suppressing the opportunity to terrorise is the answer to the problem in the rest of the United Kingdom and the world.

The Minister is an educated man and he is experienced in these matters. He has steered this legislation effectively, if not always in the way that I would like. Is there nothing that he can do to educate those in the Home Office and the Foreign Office so that they understand that the lessons from Northern Ireland provide a more powerful and effective solution to undermining the motives of terrorism than any effort to suppress the opportunities to terrorise ever did?

I think that we have ended up with a flawed but usable piece of legislation. My great regret is that the lessons of Northern Ireland and the many hundreds of hours that each of us has spent debating them are not transferred
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to the wider debate about terrorism. We can win the peace in Northern Ireland, but there is every risk that we will lose the war on terrorism elsewhere.

4.45 pm

Mr. Donaldson: My party supports the principle as set out in the Bill. We did not divide the House on Second Reading for that reason. Nevertheless, we are disappointed that the Government have not accepted the amendments that we tabled, particularly in relation to the duration of this legislation. I outlined earlier, as did my hon. Friends, why we felt that the lifetime of the legislation should be extended beyond 2007–08.

There is no doubt—I think that this is accepted by the Government—that there is a continuing terrorist threat in Northern Ireland—hence the need for this legislation. Undoubtedly, we will continue to differ over the extent to which that should influence the continued provision of special measures to deal with the terrorist threat. I understand that the Government are pursuing a policy, which is about trying to create a normal society in Northern Ireland. We want to see that normal society because it affects our constituents, the way in which they live their lives and the way in which they do their business. We have made some significant progress, but we must not remove the safeguards that are necessary to ensure that society in Northern Ireland is protected. For as long as the threat remains, the need for the protection provided by this legislation remains.

As I understand it, the Minister did not go as far as to say that there was an acceptable level of violence in Northern Ireland. He quoted figures from 1972 and everyone knows that, because of the carnage that occurred in that year, it was the worst year of what has become known as the troubles. To advance his argument, no doubt the Minister will take the worst of Northern Ireland and seek to measure that against where we are today. There is no doubt that there is a major difference, but that does not mean that we have reached a level where the need for this legislation has been removed. Where is that level?

If by 2007–08 there has been further progress, and perhaps some of the other paramilitary terrorist groups have moved to decommission weapons or declare an end to their criminal and violent activity, which would be welcome, it is highly likely that there will remain organisations such as the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA and perhaps some of the loyalist paramilitary organisations that have not reached the stage of declaring an end to their violence and criminality, or decommissioned their weapons. That is the reality.

What will be the position in 2007 if the Government extend the legislation for a further 12 months and then it ceases to exist? There will then be pre-legislative scrutiny and we will consider what measures may still be required. Why go to the trouble of bringing forward new legislation when we already have adequate legislation? We want to take on board the safeguard of extending the life of the legislation and building in periodic reviews. We feel that that would have been a more prudent way to approach the issue. I regret that the Government have not taken that line. The Government need to address the issue. Do they have in their mind a level at which the legislation will be repealed or cease to exist, and yet there is a continuing terrorist threat? We have seen that those
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organisations that continue to engage in or prepare for acts of violence are just as capable of threatening witnesses and juries and interfering with and seeking to undermine the judicial process as the organisations that perhaps are progressing towards a more democratic and peaceful situation.

We are still dealing, however, with the legacy of the violence of those organisations. Arrests took place just yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) mentioned, in relation to the village of Claudy. We commend the PSNI for its ongoing investigative work to find and bring to justice those responsible for the atrocity in Claudy. We note, however, that the arrests yesterday included one of Sinn Fein's Assembly Members, Francis Brolly. We are therefore still dealing with the legacy of republican involvement in violence and acts of terrorism, and that will continue to have an impact.

Sinn Fein does not support the police, and does not recognise the legitimacy of British justice in Northern Ireland. Let me quote what was said by Martin McGuinness, the Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster, who still does not take his seat in this House, after the arrest of Francis Brolly:

I hope that the Government will resist any pressure that is brought to bear by Sinn Fein-IRA to interfere in any way with the judicial process or the police investigation into the matter. Even with the progress made and what the Minister described as the historic statement made in July by the IRA, Sinn Fein still does not support the police or accept the rule of law in Northern Ireland—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Would the hon. Gentleman now confine his remarks to the Bill? I can see some relation, and I have given some latitude, but I would now like him to address the Third Reading.

Mr. Donaldson: I accept your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point is that the need for this legislation relates to the environment in which we are operating. We do not accept the Minister's argument that we are likely to have an enabling environment in two years' time that will mean that the legislation can be repealed. Part of that enabling environment is whether or not people support the police and the rule of law. If they do not support the police and the rule of law, their predisposition to interfere with the judicial process, threaten, bully, cajole and perhaps engage in acts of violence against jurors and witnesses in legal proceedings is still there. The safeguards of the legislation therefore ought to remain extant. The Government ought to take that on board.

I do not know what progress we are likely to make over the next two years. Certainly, I hope that Sinn Fein will finally accept the police and the rule of law in Northern Ireland, but we are not there yet. I do not therefore share the Minister's confidence that by 2008 at the latest we will have an enabling environment whereby the provisions of the legislation will no longer be necessary.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) mentioned the visit to London yesterday by the victims of the Omagh bombing. We welcome the fact
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that the Prime Minister has at long last met those people. They are entitled to a hearing and have real concerns, which we understand, and I hope that the Prime Minister will consider carefully the points made by that delegation yesterday.

One of the things that struck me about that delegation was that its members seemed to welcome the fact that those who had been convicted, or might be convicted in future, of involvement in the Omagh bombing would not be subject to the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, and would therefore not be able to bypass the judicial process. I believe that we are creating two standards of justice in Northern Ireland, based on an arbitrary line in the sand that was drawn on 10 April 1998. That will cause enormous problems for public confidence in the administration of justice. I hope that, even at this stage, the Government will reflect on the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, and will withdraw from what I consider to be a potentially disastrous measure that will have a very detrimental effect on the judicial system in the part of the United Kingdom that I have the privilege to represent.

I alluded earlier to the victims of violence. It is important for them to have confidence in the judicial process. The Bill makes special provision to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done, which is important, but let me also mention one of the omissions from it. The Minister said that the police must have the necessary tools to take on and defeat terrorism, but one of the most important tools that they desire—

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