Mr. Donaldson: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me simply make the general point that it would have strengthened the Bill had provision been made for the admissibility of phone-tap evidence in judicial proceedings in Northern Ireland against terrorist suspects. That could transform the potential for the police to secure further convictions in cases involving acts of terrorism. I regret that, to date, the Government have not acceded to that reasonable request, which has come from the police throughout the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, I accept your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall leave the issue for another day.
As for the future, we hope that there will come a day when there will be no need for legislation of this kind. That is our desire. We believe, however, that that day will come only when people can feel confident that the threat from terrorism has been removed once and for all. Confidence is necessary for the judicial process to operate properly and effectively. We are not there yet, and I am not convinced that we shall be there in 2007 or 2008, which is why we sought to extend the lifetime of this legislation.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made a valid point, albeit in a slightly different context. The Government cannot continue to operate double standards in terms of how they take on the threat of terrorism. They cannot continue to believe that that is the right approach, and that it sends out the right signal to terrorist organisations not just in Northern Ireland but all over the world. When al-Qaeda and its affiliates
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see the way in which the Government deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland, they see weaknesses that they will try to exploit in the future. When enacting legislationnot just for Northern Ireland, but for the United Kingdom as a wholethe Government must be careful not to fall into the trap of the double standard.
Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there will unquestionably be unintended consequences from the legislation that we enact in Northern Ireland, which will inevitably filter into the mainstream? Neither we nor the Government have seen those consequences, which is one reason why taking two parallel and contradictory approaches is so dangerous to the Government in the context of international terrorism versus Northern Ireland terrorism.
Mr. Donaldson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I have to say that, on the same day as the First Reading of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, the Government were asking the House to support a measure that sought to extend the period of detention to 90 daysa clear example of the double standards operated by the Government. One cannot adopt double standards in dealing with terrorism[Interruption.]
Lembit Öpik: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I take full responsibility for leading the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) off message and up the garden path, and I apologise for doing so.
To conclude, it is important that the legislation remains on the statute book for as long as it is necessary to afford the people of Northern Ireland the protection that they need from terrorism and the threat of terrorism.
Mr. Bellingham : It is always a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who speaks with a huge amount of passion, experience and conviction. I also want to say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) that the words that we expressed on his tragic family loss were genuine, and it is touching that he thanked us for them. There has been a considerable amount of Northern Ireland business over recent days and it struck us that it was courageous of him to make his contributions.
I heard what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said about the Minister, and I would also like to thank the Minister for his contribution to the debate.
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Sometimes junior Northern Ireland Ministers are young high flyers on their way up and at other times it can be a dumping ground for Ministers who are going nowhere. This Minister has demonstrated that he is almost certainly in the former category because he has shown a great deal of interest in the Bill and demonstrated his expertise in guiding it forward. I have not always seen eye to eye with him and we have crossed swords a few times on general issues, but I believe that we can put our differences behind us. As the Opposition, we want to work with the Government to find positive ways of helping the people of Northern Ireland.
I regret the fact that the legislation is necessary, but necessary it most certainly is. If we reflect on the activities of Sinn Fein-IRA and of other mainstream terrorist and paramilitary organisations, there is obviously historic significance in what has been achieved. As the hon. Member for Lagan Valley pointed out, there has been a move towards normalisation, but I remain concerned that the infrastructure of those organisations is still in place. They have also been involved in various activities involving criminal gangs, racketeering, protection rackets, fraud, smugglingcross-border smuggling, in particulardrugs and so forth. We all know that many of the terrorist bosses who indulged in the most repugnant forms of terrorism and killing have now taken to making serious money through those rackets. Some of them are very rich and are building an enviable lifestyle on the back of such racketeering.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the people who wanted the Army observation post taken down, particularly in south Armagh, are terrorists involved in smuggling across the border?
When I was involved in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at the start of the last Parliament, I had the opportunity and privilege of visiting the Province on several occasions. We were also able to look at the cross-border observation towers, the argument in favour of which was security and the prevention of terrorist activities. Of course, they fulfilled another rolethe prevention of cross-border smuggling, a hugely profitable business on which the Select Committee produced a report. [Interruption.] I note that the Clerk is suggesting, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I might be going a tiny bit off piste; I shall endeavour to stick to the subject. However, the context of this Bill is the prevention of terrorism, so how these terrorists are financed is, in my judgment, of paramount importance.
What about the other terrorist organisations that were mentioned a moment ago, such as the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and fringe organisations on the loyalist side? They have given no indication whatsoever that they want to end their terrorist activities. There are still a number of very dangerous organisations in the Province and they could strike at any time. I shall deal with the expiry argument in a moment, but I want to point out that I am worried about withdrawing our forces from Northern Ireland and scaling down the military presence there. To do so is understandable at a time
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when the British Army is so stretched, but surely now is not the time to disband the two Territorial battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment; that is absolutely crazy.
The normalisation argument, about which the hon. Member for Lagan Valley made some very good points, is an important one, but a price has been paid and concessions have been made. I find utterly repugnant the concession made in the form of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. At a time when the Government are saying that we need legislation to put in place the framework for combating terrorism, they are also introducing a unique Bill that gives terrorists an extraordinary set of amnesties.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here for a while, so he will have heard the previous ruling by Madam Deputy Speaker. The Bill is narrowly drawnI shall not read out its title, but it is brief and very tightly drawnand I ask the hon. Gentleman to stick to the content of it.
Mr. Bellingham: I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for those slight strictures, but I do feel passionate about this issue. We are talking about terrorism and the essence of this Bill, which is indeed terrorism in Northern Ireland.