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Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend has mentioned to me the case involving his relative and it is a very serious one. I think that it might be best if he wrote to the Chief Constable, because the historic inquiries team could look into the case and see how we proceed.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): I share the universal welcome for the withdrawal of the Bill, but is it not a sad state of affairs that it appears that Sinn Fein-IRA are still driving so many decisions behind the scenes, by either withholding or giving support? The Secretary of State may ask why Sinn Fein-IRA still withhold support from the police and will not deal with the exiles matter, but is it not because they are looking for further concessions before they agree? Will he make certain that there are no further concessions?
Mr. Hain: There can be no further concessions because there is only one way to resolve the matter, and that is by legislation. To be perfectly frank, when Sinn Fein came to me on 20 December and told me that it no longer supported the Bill, my reaction, and that of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, was to tell it to get lost: given all that we had done to fulfil the commitment that we had agreedwith all the difficulty in the House and the strength of opinionto be told that it was changing its mind and doing a U-turn, that was my attitude. Nevertheless, I did not think it right to proceed with the Bill. That was not in response to what Sinn Fein may have decided from day to day. We are withdrawing the Bill because without the prospect of any on-the-runs actually using it, it would achieve nothing. Victims would see no prosecutions or convictions resulting from it. We would have gone to a whole lot of trouble and cost setting up something of which people would not avail themselves. That was the point of withdrawing the Bill.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I join my hon. Friends and other colleagues in welcoming the withdrawal of the OTR Bill. It is a victory, albeit belated, for common sense and morality and, not least, for the victims. Let us face it; they have had little enough to cheer throughout the entire sorry process.
Will the Secretary of State accept that democratic parties in Northern Ireland have been willing to get down to work in the Assembly but that, over years, the Government have prevented the Assembly from meeting and proceeding, because they wanted to ensure that the only way forward was the insertion of Sinn Fein, even with its criminality and paramilitarism, at the heart of government? Will not the real test for the Secretary of State come in April, not the summer? Will he really suggest to the House that Sinn Fein Members
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should have all their allowances restored in this place, when they do not attend the Chamber and fulfil their duties?
Mr. Hain: That is a matter for the House, but in respect of Sinn Fein's allowances in the Assembly, they will be treated like everybody else and every other party. I do not want to withdraw salaries and allowances, but if circumstances force it Sinn Fein will have them withdrawn as well.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point that the Government prevented the Assembly from sitting. We must have all-party agreement for the Assembly to sit. In response to the interesting and quite significant point made by his colleague, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I said that we await proposals from the DUP and we shall want to see whether they have support from other parties. Then we can make progress.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): We should not forget that the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill was introduced under the auspices of Sinn Fein's demands and we now hear that it was withdrawn after Sinn Fein's demands. After all the warm words we have heard, the Government have yet to admit that they never actually conceded any of the amendments drafted by all parties in the Committee. Will not the Secretary of State recognise that Sinn Fein-IRA have been pulling the strings from the very beginning of the process, and will he confirm that, following the meeting on 20 December, the reason he withdrew the Bill was that Sinn Fein and Sinn Fein alone withdrew its support? What other reasons are there for him to come to the House and withdraw the Bill?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman's intervention does not reflect the spirit of the House this afternoon. As a member of the Committee, he knows that my hon. Friend the Minister indicated that we would accept the proposed amendments, including the one proposing that defendants had to sit in court. As I said, when Sinn Fein first came to me to say that it no longer supported the Bill, my inclination was to tell it to get lost, because we would continue with it anyway in spite of its point of viewas my hon. Friend will confirm, because we both discussed the matter. We were considering other amendments, including the reduction of the qualifying period under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 from two to nought years. We were looking at various things, but having listened to the views expressed in the House there seemed no point in proceeding to set up legislation that would not be used by people to cure the anomaly that it was designed to cure. That was the reason.
I remind the Secretary of State and other Members that last May there were elections in Northern Ireland and the overwhelming majority of Unionists rejected the iniquitous Belfast agreement. That is why nine DUP Members and only one Ulster Unionist are sitting on these Benches. The on-the-runs measure was not part of
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that agreement, but a side deal entered into by the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Alliance party and Sinn Fein-IRA, with a little help from the Ulster Unionist party. Will the Secretary of State, as he has indicated, meet the victims of the La Mon House atrocity, for which Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned at the time? The Secretary of State is right: he should be listening to the voices of victims
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend the Minister and I have received delegations, quite properly, from many victims' groups, from all parties and individual groups. We shall continue to listen to them. The hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) may want to contact our office as one of my ministerial team will indeed be happy to receive such a delegation.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged in the past that without the contribution of members of the security services and the armed forces, any calling-off of the IRA's so-called war might never have happened. Where does the withdrawal of the Bill leave members of the armed forces who carried out their orders, sometimes with explicit ministerial permission, but who might be hauled into court as a result of the so-called historic review process?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, puts a pertinent question. One of the reasons that we felt that the legislation was needed was precisely to address the past. A member of the security forces may have acted in the name of the Crown, unlawfully, as they should not have done, and perhaps committed a murder, as they should not have done. Justice should prevail, but we could see them serving a lengthy prison sentence, while paramilitary prisoners who had not served their full sentence were let out on licence under the terms of the Good Friday agreement. The hon. Gentleman rightly identifies that as one of the anomalies that we sought to address in the Bill.
As I said in my statement and during Northern Ireland questions, those issues will not go away; they will have to be resolved in some fashion and from what the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), the Conservative spokesman, has said, I think that he agrees with that in principle. After a period of reflection, we might want to see whether we can find a way forward based on consensus.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP):
Last week, I stood with families of the victims of the Kingsmill massacre in south Armagh as they commemorated the 30th anniversary of that atrocity. They will join many families of victims across Northern Ireland in welcoming the Secretary of State's decision. Is not it time that we put the victims and not the perpetrators at the centre of the process? The Government's agenda should be to accommodate not the perpetrators but the needs of the victims. In that context, will the Secretary of State consider giving a role to the interim victims commissioner in finding the way forward?
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Mr. Hain: Mrs. Bertha McDougall is a very able woman. She has a big task on her plate and I expect her report at the end of the year. She is welcome to look at the issue, but she has many other things to do. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that victims should be right at the centre of the process. A delegation from the RUC widows association went with me to see the Prime Minister about their concerns and their deep anger about the Billthere is no point in disguising that. The hon. Gentleman will understand the irony in the fact that just before Christmas I met a delegation from Sinn Fein of victims of the security forcesthey claimedwho felt equally angry that those people were unpunished. There is a unity of anger on behalf of victims, quite understandably. If I were in that predicament, I might feel exactly the same. There is unity of anger across the community divide. The point is: how do we resolve it? How do we get the anger out and restore normality and consensus? That is the objective that we all share.
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