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We supported the amendment tabled by the Democratic Unionist party for a very simple reason. The Government were being over-optimistic and over-ambitious and the deadline in that amendment was much more realistic. Given that this legislation is before us now, it surely makes a great deal of sense to use this opportunity to provide extra security into the future.If former on-the-run terrorists are to return to Northern Ireland, they will be coming back at exactly the time when this legislation could well expire. That is very worrying indeed. The Government tell us that they have a fully joined-up approach to dealing with terrorism, but they are introducing this Bill, which says one thing, and another Bill that says something completely different hot on the heels of this one. That is why we supported the DUP amendment, and we hope that the Government will think again, particularly when this Bill goes to another place.
The Diplock courts are an important part of the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland. Many of us have reservations about such courts and we have had a good debate about them, although what was said by Liberal Democrat Members did not make any sense. The Minister said that he would need compelling evidence about whether the system was working and could be improvedbut, if it cannot be improved, he should stick with the status quo.
The hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) proposed a system in new clause 1 that would involve three judges rather than one.
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However, I believe that pressure would be brought to bear to ensure that two of the judges came from the different parts of the community, with the result that the third would have to try and hold the ring. Although the Northern Ireland judiciary is supremely professional, that would put the judges in a very tricky position, and that is why we were right to vote against the new clause.
Mr. Bellingham: In some ways, that is a fair point, but I do not want to get into a long debate about it as I see that the Clerk is again casting a few glances in your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be told off for a third timeif I got another yellow card, I fear you would ask me to shut up once and for all.
This Bill is about the victims of violence, and its potential victims. We must think about their plight, and about how so many families in the Province and on the mainland have been destroyed by terrorism. However, there is an extraordinary contradiction in the Government's approach. They say that they need this Bill and we support them wholeheartedly, even though we feel that the expiry period is too short, yet they have also introduced the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which makes concessions that many people across the UK find extraordinary.
The Government admit that we are some way from normality, but the debate has exposed the lack of joined-up thinking on their part. Their approach to combating terrorism in the UK lacks consistency. This Bill applies to Northern Ireland, but other measures are proposed for the mainland that are draconian in the extreme and that will impinge heavily on civil liberties.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has compared the differing approaches being adopted in Northern Ireland and on the mainland in a very succinct and eloquent way. There is hope in the Province that life is returning to some form of normality, but the terrorist organisations have a great deal of financial muscle as a result of the proceeds of illegal activity. For example, the proceeds from last year's bank raid have never been accounted for, but that money is ready to pay for more arms if need be.
My hope for the future is coloured by my fear of those organisations' financial muscle. My hope is also coloured by my fear and my knowledge that there are organisations out there that are not part of this so-called peace process. My hope is also tinged with revulsion, dismay and disappointment at the Government's double standards and lack of consistency in their approach to terrorism, in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.
: I wish to continue where my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) left off. In looking at the double standards in the Bill, I will try not to wander from the path, as he did, or be led
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astray by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). I shall resist interventions from the hon. Gentleman, because I am so easily led astray.
The Bill illustrates the schizophrenic approach of the Government to terrorism. The Minister called the Liberal Democrats the pick and mix party, but what we have seen in the past couple of weeks from the Governmentand this Bill is part of itis a pick and mix policy on terrorism. One week, it is jelly babies, the next week it is fudge, and then we get cloven-tongued rock. Last week, the jelly babies were handed out, with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This Bill is a fudge in its approach to terrorism, and yesterday the Prime Minister offered some rock to the victims of Omagh by saying, "We will never give an amnesty to the people who carried out the Omagh bombing." We have heard similar hard words before about Provisional IRA terrorists, but unfortunately those promises have not been kept.
The Government's approach has had an effect on Northern Ireland, because it has sent out the wrong signals to the terrorists and led to continuing terrorism in Northern Ireland. Terrorists need hope, and I believe that the Bill gives them that hope. On several occasions, the Minister mentioned the normalisation process. In the next breath, he spoke of the continuing threat of terrorism. We cannot have normalisation if we have a continuing threat. That is what the Bill is all about. In a couple of years' time, we are supposed to ease the regulations and restrictions, and change the way in which we deal with terrorism.
As a member of Belfast city council, I saw the effect of such an approach on terrorist representatives. I remember a Conservative Minister coming to address the council and being told by one of the Sinn Fein members, "You'll go home in a box, like soldiers have gone home in boxes." Of course, the Minister asked for the meeting to be stopped and the member to be put out, but his parting words were, "You'll talk to us someday." It is ambivalence that gives hope to terrorists and that is what this Bill will do. It gives terrorists hope that they will be listened to. It gives them hope that they will be able to escape justice.
The prospect that in a couple of years time Diplock courts may go and we may revert to jury trials also gives hope to terrorists who escape justice by intimidating witnesses. Their hope is that at some time in the future they will also be able to intimidate jurors. Rather than dealing with terrorism and leading towards normalisation, as the Minister hopes, the measure will ensure that Northern Ireland is condemned to more years of terrorism and continues to need such legislation because of the continued terrorist threat.
As other DUP Members have said, we do not want to wallow in self-pity about how bad Northern Ireland is. The accusation sometimes thrown at Unionists is that we do not want things to change. I want things to change. I want a vibrant economy in Northern Ireland. Unlike the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I believe that Northern Ireland can stand on its own two feet and that it is viable. I want to be able to give that positive message to investors from Northern Ireland or outside, but when there is a continuing terrorist threat we cannot be sure that the necessary stability will
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prevail. If the picture for Northern Ireland is to be positive, an unrelenting message must be sent to terrorists: we will introduce legislation that will ensure that they are crushed and dealt with and that does not offer the hope that the Bill gives them.
As a member of the Policing Board, I know of the continued terrorist threat. We receive reports from the Chief Constable every month. Some Members have mentioned the changing nature of terrorism. We may no longer experience headline terrorist incidentsthe massive bombs in shopping centres or the shooting of policemen and Army personnelbut there is constant low-level violence. It may not make the second or even third page of the newspaper, yet it corrupts, contaminates and destroys society: the inter-faith violence organised by terrorist groups, the criminality perpetrated by terrorist groups, the intimidation of witnesses carried out by terrorist groups and the control of local areas by terrorist groups are ongoing. That is why we continue to need legislation.
Those charged by the Government with monitoring terrorism have indicated that they see violence continuing in the long term, yet the Bill offers the prospect of normalisation within a short period. It will be music to terrorist ears that there is a weakening and a willingness to take a route that enables them to achieve their aims and escape justice.
The amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) are essential, not because I want special legislation to have to apply to Northern Ireland for a long time, but because I believe it is necessary. The terms of the Bill are a mistake. They will give hope to those who continue to engage in terrorist acts. In a year or two, this measure, along with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill and others that have been mentionedI promised that I would not wanderwhich have been introduced as an incentive and a reward to terrorists, will not have achieved normalisation. The pick and mix, jelly baby approach that the Bill and other legislation represent will unfortunately condemn Northern Ireland to a longer period of terrorism rather than bringing normalisation.
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