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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I have listened to many points raised today by my hon. Friends. I think that I can safely say that no one would like to see normality in Northern Ireland more than I would.
Four members of my family were murdered at the hands of terrorism. The first one who was murdered was a police officerhe was shot outside Coalisland barracks, and he was in the Royal hospital in Belfast and South Tyrone hospital for 22 years. My other family member was shot outside Coalisland as he made his way to work one Sunday afternoon. We received a phone call at 4 o'clock on the afternoon of his funeral to tell us that another family member had been shot outside the village of Moy in County Tyrone. Some time after that, I got another phone call to tell me that a family member of 40 years of age, to whom I was very close, had been shot in Irish street in Dungannon. He was seven years out of the security forces. I was in the hospital when he bled to death.
No one would want to see normality more than I would, but I must say to the Minister today that we are a long, long way off that. I could not convince my family members that Sinn Fein-IRA had gone away. We have heard today that Martin McGuinness has said that the structures of the Provisional IRA will not be taken down. What message does that send to the law-abiding
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citizens of Northern Ireland in both sections of the community who want to move on? It sends a very, very negative message.
I have received several security briefings recently. I received one only last Friday. Perhaps the Minister will confirm what it saidthat there has been a dramatic recruitment drive by the Continuity IRA and, to a lesser extent, the Real IRA throughout Northern Ireland. There has certainly been a dramatic increase in my constituency, targeting those aged between 18 and 20. If the Government are so confident that by 2007 we shall all be linking arms and running around with daisy chains around our necks, singing all the peace songs that were sung in the '60s, I am very confused. If the Provisional IRA and all the sister organisations of the republican movement are going into peace mode, why are they recruiting and why are they still targeting the security forces?
As I have said in the House before, numerous members of the Prison Service, the PSNI and the Royal Irish Regiment have been with me in my office, confirming that they have been and are being targeted by the republican movement and want to be moved from their homes. In view of the confidence boost that the Government have somehow obtained, can the Minister please explain why the republican movement is still recruiting? There have been four attempted bombings in my constituency alone over the past few months.
Mr. Woodward: By leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to respond to a number of points during what I think we would all agree has been a powerful debate that deserves a response from the Government.
I thank all Members for their constructive approach in both amendments and speeches. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for his enthusiastic support for the Secretary of State's offer of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of our proposals for dealing with the Diplock issues. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) that organised crime is now probably the most significant long-term threat. There are a number of measures to deal with it, manyindeed, mostof which are not in this Bill but in other legislation. There are also the powers vested in other bodies, such as the Assets Recovery Agency.
I thank the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) for his generous remarks. I understand his concerns about the on-the-runs legislation. Although I think that they need a response, I am conscious that were I to respond I should be guilty of preying on your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you have already handed out one or two yellow cards to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, I have no wish to incur a third. Suffice it to say that I believe that the hon. Gentleman has raised significant points that need to be discussed. There will be an opportunity to debate them,
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and I will certainly discuss them with the Secretary of State, who may wish to write to reassure the hon. Gentleman on certain issues that he raised this afternoon.
The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) took us through a veritable sweet shop of fudge, jelly babies and other things. He nevertheless raised some very important points about normalisation, as did the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). Normalisation is a goal. We do not believe that we have arrived at normalisation at the moment. It is a goal that will be achieved through an enabling environment and we believe that legislation is part of that environment, but we are introducing the Bill because we have not yet arrived at a state of normalisation. We are still very much in the transitionary period of creating an enabling environment. It is precisely because of the continuing threatalbeit one that is, I believe, significantly lowerthat we none the less have to review and renew the legislative provisions. There is evidence to believe that the threat is declining. That is why it is realistic to work towards a deadline of 2007, but the Bill contains provisions to push us on to 2008.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) rightly saidI agree with himthat those elected in Northern Ireland should be taking the decisions. I think that everyone in the House would agree with him and we look forward to him taking up his position in a power-sharing Executive to take those decisions. Then, he will be able to carry those responsibilities forward. We look forward to that moment, but I think that he would agree that it has not yet arrived. Decisions need to be taken and that is why we are taking them this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East also raised the issue of unintended consequences. We firmly require an end to paramilitary activity and criminality and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said unequivocally that there will be zero tolerance of that. However, the Bill must be viewed as part of a process.
Lembit Öpik: Does that mean that any breach of legal behaviour or any indication of organised crime would constitute a breach of the ceasefire? Surely that is the only way in which zero tolerance can be applied.
We do not believe that being optimistic, which is based on evidence, is incompatible with being cautious. That is why we are renewing the legislation. We think that we should hold out until the standards are reachedand the standard is based, and will be based, on security advice given to the Secretary of State by his security officials, including the Chief Constable.
I am slightly confused. The Minister says that the Government intend to enforce zero tolerance of criminal behaviour. Then, under pressure, he says that it must be taken account of in the round,
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which does not sound like zero tolerance to me. The irony is that I can see a case for not enforcing zero tolerance, but once again the Government seem to be saying two different thingsthey say zero tolerance in the Chamber, but they say nothing of the sort in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Woodward: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is confused, but I disagree with him entirely. The Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that there will be zero tolerance of paramilitary activity and criminality, which requires an end to them.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) was right to recognise that no one is happy about introducing the Bill. There is no happiness in having to introduce any prevention of terrorism legislation because of the obvious reason for having to do so. The hon. Gentleman was also right to recognise that it is nevertheless necessary to do soand the Government firmly believe that it is.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) echoed that point. There is no disagreement over whether a threat still existswe believe that there is still a threatthe disagreement is over our degree of optimism that normalisation can be achieved by 2007. We of course empathise with the threats still experienced by Northern Ireland Members and their constituents. Again, our difference is not in understanding them, but in the degree to which, and the cautious speed with which, we believe it is now possible to make progress on security issues.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for East Antrim took us back to section 108. He is absolutely right to expand the frame of reference beyond Omagh, and I entirely agree with him. He is also absolutely right to underline the factas I did earlierthat a single incident of terrorism is one too many, and that there should never be acceptance or tolerance of terrorism, wherever it takes place.
That takes me back to the need for this Bill and its provisions. It is about judgment, just as section 108 is about judgment. Perhaps section 108 will never be used. We know that it was enacted against the tragic background of Omagh, and that those dealing with the cases currently under review may wish to use it, even though those cases are not directly related to Omagh. That was the simple point that I explained to the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). At the moment, we are being asked to keep section 108 by those who may use it, and we respect that. However, when this legislation can fallas I hope it canbecause we have achieved normalisation through the enabling environment, it will go. That will be a good moment, if it is the right moment.
I hear what was said about pre-legislative scrutiny, the Secretary of State and the binding of future Secretaries of State, but I remind Members with a little humility that the letter written today by the Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Select Committee was concerned with examining proposals in the coming months of next year. The Secretary of State believes, with reasonable justification, that he will still be in post when that moment comes.
Everybody will have yet again been moved by the speech made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson). The personal stories that he told are
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unimaginable for those of us who have not lived personally through those tragedies and that history. Of course, because of his experience all Members should take on board his caution. All will appreciate his desire for normalisation precisely because of those four awful, tragic and appalling stories. It is not appropriate, however, for me to comment on the security and intelligence reports on the Continuity IRA, except to say thisI want to reassure the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues and all Members that the security of the people of Northern Ireland is absolutely first on our list and we will not play fast and loose with it. That is why we are introducing these proposals today. We do so not because we want to, but because we recognise that the threat is still there. For the very foreseeable future, we still feel the need to have this legislation in place.
People in Northern Ireland have made huge progress in the past few years. There is more to make and, regrettably, not enough has been made to dispense with this legislation. However, enough has been made to hope, in passing this Bill today, that it will be possible for us to say by 2007 that we no longer need special provisions to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.
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