House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates

Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Column Number: 1

Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Bill Olner

Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
†Byers, Mr. Stephen (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Clark, Greg (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury) (Lab)
†Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Farrelly, Paul (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab)
†Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
†Harris, Mr. Tom (Glasgow, South) (Lab)
†Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
†Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
†Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
†Wills, Mr. Michael (North Swindon) (Lab)
†Woodward, Mr. Shaun (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) (Lab)
Tom Healey, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Column Number: 3

Wednesday 9 November 2005

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2005

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005, No. 2558).

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner. The order was laid before the House on 14 September. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made the order on 13 September under the urgency procedure provided by section 19(3) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. It came into effect at midnight at the beginning of 14 September 2005.

The order specified the Ulster Volunteer Force, which is generally referred to as the UVF, and the Red Hand Commando. The latter organisation is associated with the UVF and its name has been used as a flag of convenience for UVF activity. The Secretary of State specified those organisations using the powers conferred on him by the 1998 Act.

The Act makes provision for the specification of an organisation that

    “is concerned in terrorism connected with the affairs of Northern Ireland, or in promoting or encouraging it, and . . . has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.”

In applying his judgment to that test, the Secretary of State is obliged, in particular, to take into account whether an organisation

    “is committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve its objectives . . . has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence . . . is directing or promoting acts of violence by other organisations”

and whether it is co-operating fully with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

In addition to the UVF and the RHC, the following organisations continue to be specified: the Continuity Irish Republican Army; the Loyalist Volunteer Force; the Orange Volunteers; the Real Irish Republican Army; and the Red Hand Defenders. A statutory duty is placed on the Secretary of State to review that list from time to time, in case changes of circumstances require it to be amended. To that end, the Secretary of State keeps the status of all specified organisations, and those purporting to be on a ceasefire, under continuous review. He takes advice from the Chief Constable and his other security advisers as to the robustness of all ceasefires.

Column Number: 4

Under the Act’s general requirements, an order to specify an organisation will be made by statutory instrument that has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House, unless the Secretary of State thinks it necessary, for reasons of urgency, to proceed without a draft having been so approved. For reasons that I hope will become self-evident, it was necessary for the Secretary of State to proceed with specification of the UVF and the RHC with immediate effect on 13 September.

In June, the UVF recommenced its long-standing feud with the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a terrorist organisation that is already specified. Over the succeeding weeks, the UVF carried out four murders, numerous attempted murders and various violent attacks, which were all directed towards the LVF and its members’ families and associates. Although the LVF also perpetrated some attacks, the overwhelming violence emanated from the UVF. The detail of the feud and its genesis is provided in the Independent Monitoring Commission report that was laid before the House on 22 September.

Despite various assurances through third-party interlocutors that the UVF would desist, feuding continued up until and including 9 September. On 10 September, a major Orange Order parade, known as the Whiterock parade, took place. It was contentious, and the Parades Commission made a determination that placed a route restriction on it. Consequently, those who were participating in the parade initiated a protest at the contentious part of the parade route. There was a subsequent outbreak of violence, initially among some marchers, their supporters and the police. Violence quickly escalated and spread to other parts of Belfast and beyond. However, the most serious and sustained violence occurred in the general vicinity of the West Circular road part of the parade route.

Almost all the violence was directed at the police and their military colleagues, who were there to support the police. It was violence of the most vicious kind; rioters intended to maim and kill. Petrol bombs, blast bombs, pipe bombs and other missiles were unleashed. Many of them rained down from rooftops on the security forces below. Such was the ferocity of the attack, it was not possible accurately to record the volume of missiles thrown.

Perhaps the most discouraging and disconcerting occurrence during that mayhem was the use of live fire. So-called loyalists discharged 115 rounds at both the police and the Army.

The Chief Constable and the Security Service have made a detailed assessment of the violence. Advice to the Secretary of State confirmed UVF involvement in the instigation of the violence. It was not a spontaneous event perpetrated in the heat of the moment. It required preparation, co-ordination, the stockpiling of missiles, the deployment of guns and, crucially, the authorisation to foment and actively participate in the violence.

The violence of 10 September continued for fully 12 hours, from 3 in the afternoon until 3 the following morning, and was repeated on 11 and 12 September,
Column Number: 5
although to diminishing effect. The fact that no policeman or soldier was killed was fortunate and in no small measure due to joint training, tactical deployment and the quality of the public order equipment. The Chief Constable rightly made the point that no police force in western Europe or, indeed, the USA has had to face such a sustained and brutal assault.

Since then, feuding has ceased and there has been a positive development. On 30 October, Rev. Mervyn Gibson, chairman of the Loyalist Commission, announced that, following extensive efforts, the commission believed the loyalist feud to be permanently over. The LVF subsequently issued a statement to the effect that it had ordered its units to stand down with effect from midnight on 30 October, and there has been some talk of decommissioning.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in the House the following day, we

    “welcome any move that brings such murderous violence to an end”,


    “words must . . . be matched by deeds . . . What we need to see is the full decommissioning of all”

illegally held weaponry

    “and a complete . . . end to all paramilitary and criminal activity from all paramilitary groups.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2005; Vol. 438, c. 627.]

Although we welcome the ending of the feud, the actions of the UVF cannot be allowed to pass without sanction. That organisation’s murderous campaign against the LVF and its involvement in the violence following the Whiterock parade are incompatible with any claims to be on ceasefire and cannot be tolerated by any civilised society.

2.37 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): It is a pleasure to work with you again, Mr. Olner. I have no objection to the order. The Minister asks whether it was understandable that the Secretary of State acted as he did, and I suggest that it was inevitable that he did so. Indeed, a case could possibly have been made for his acting earlier, given the violence that had taken place. I have said in Committee before and on the Floor of the House that a short while ago I had the discomfort of watching the video of the violence to which the Minister refers, which was shameful. I do not believe that the members of the Orange Order involved were necessarily representative of the wider order, but they brought shame on the organisation and the violence was very much to be regretted.

When I watched the video, the police made it clear that they could have shown me similar videos of violence on the other side of the divide—the republican side. Again, that is very regrettable. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the Minister on this order, but I am a little concerned about the possibility of the Committee being accused of double standards, because there is without doubt continuing criminality and paramilitary activity by the IRA. Will the Minister tell us—I do not say this flippantly—what it would have to do to be specified itself? There has been the bank robbery, the murder of Robert
Column Number: 6
McCartney, the exiling of people—people who have been exiled being prevented from returning to the Province—organised crime and criminality.

The IMC report says:

    “We have yet to find evidence that any paramilitary group”—

which must include the IRA—

    “is generally allowing the return of those it has exiled, or is considering doing so.”

That strikes me as criminality. On the contrary, the report states that

    “we believe there have been a number of instances during the period covered by this report”—

March to August—

    “where people have been forced from their homes by paramilitary groups or by their members—PIRA, RIRA, the UVF and the UDA.”

In other words, the Provisional IRA is included, so it is clear in the IMC report that the IRA is involved in paramilitary activity and criminality.

The Minister linked the Red Hand Commando with the UVF, and he described the former as “a flag of convenience”. Given that the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are specified, would the Minister not describe their murderous and criminal activities as flags of convenience for the IRA? Before I go too far beyond the remit of the statutory instrument, I shall move on. However, I would like the Minister to address those matters because we ought to be consistent and we do not wish to give rise to any resentment on either side of the divide in Northern Ireland.

I shall finish by asking two questions; the Minister may, understandably, not have figures to hand, but he may be able to write to me. Since the previous specification of organisations, how many people have been returned to prison? That is one of the consequences of specification. Has the Minister any idea how many people could be recalled to prison as a result of this specification?

2.41 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner. Yesterday, the magnificent Lady Winterton took the Chair; today, it is you. That is rather like winning the lottery twice in one week.

Mr. Woodward: What does he want?

Lembit Öpik: The Minister will see what I want, with some indulgence, at the end of my speech.

The Chairman: My jokes are slightly better than that.

Lembit Öpik: I dare not contradict the Chairman.

I turn to the main point of the debate. I thank the Minister for introducing the order. When the Secretary of State took the decision to specify the UVF, we welcomed the move. We were—and remain—concerned about the length of time it took to take that decision, and I have raised on previous occasions a point that has been alluded to by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson). What is the process—the objective method—by which specification occurs?
Column Number: 7
To be fair, the Minister knows that I recognise that there is a degree of political judgment as to the balance between specifying an organisation and tempting it to remain within the bounds of the law. That was something that first vexed the late Mo Mowlam, who faced precisely the same challenge when it came to determining the nature of the ceasefires. I am willing to accept that the Government require some latitude in making that call. Nevertheless, we must recognise that the UVF has, among other things, been linked to four recent murders. We have been concerned for some time about the state of that organisation’s so-called ceasefire.

Others, including the Minister, have already highlighted the IMC report of 24 May, which drew attention to the various shootings and assaults that have been attributed to the UVF. That gives rise to the question: why did the Government not decide to specify that organisation before now? That question is relevant because the answer provides an indicator of the Government’s and the Northern Ireland Office’s strength of resolve against those organisations that are violating the law and, therefore, exposing themselves to specification. I sometimes feel that those organisations are willing to try it on—are happy to go to the wire and perhaps pull back at the last moment. That type of brinkmanship kills people. The clearer the Government can be about their intentions, the more optimistic one might be that the measures—which, necessarily, will have only limited effect—will have some influence.

When the Secretary of State’s decision was announced, the Northern Ireland Office statement mentioned the deaths resulting from the loyalist feud, the Whiterock parade riots, and attacks on police. However, the threshold of violence that tipped the Government over the edge is far from clear. Although the Minister has mentioned that matter, it would be helpful to understand whether there was an objective determination that led to the judgment’s being made at this time. There does not seem to be a clear standard by which the public can judge when a ceasefire has been broken.

The matter of exiling has already been raised, and it is true that it is unquestionably an act of law-breaking because it requires coercion and intimidation. Whatever those exiles may have allegedly done, it is for the rule of law to determine their sentence, not for the vigilante movements to appoint themselves judge and jury. Paragraph 13 of the joint declaration also called for

    “an immediate, full and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity”.

It is incomprehensible that a ceasefire should be regarded as anything less than full compliance with paragraph 13. I draw the Minister’s attention to that, because on several occasions I have felt that paragraph 13 has been written down and regarded as theoretical. Significant breaches are often tolerated, and they create dangerous precedents that are treated as exactly that by the paramilitary organisations.

Column Number: 8

A footnote to the debate that may not conclude for some months is the question of terrorism and sanity. For those hon. Members who did not serve on yesterday’s Northern Ireland (Terrorism) Bill Committee, I should point out that I debated with the Minister whether terrorism was insane. The only way in which this specification makes any sense is if the Government assume that the terrorists have a degree of sane thinking.

Evilness and sanity are two different things. The fact that the Government have chosen to make this order specifying a paramilitary organisation implies at least the capacity for rational thought among those who run it. It is important to ensure joined-up thinking between what goes on in Northern Ireland and what we are asked to support there, and what goes on in debates about the Terrorism Bill and international terrorism at large.

I fear that in making valid and well informed comments in Standing Committees, the Minister nevertheless opens the Government up to naked contradiction in what they are asking us to support. It is not for us to debate the merits or demerits of introducing a 90-day internment in the United Kingdom, but I observe depressingly that although terrorists are evil, it is the Government who are insane if they believe that the reintroduction of internment is anything other than counter-productive in the war against terror.

2.48 pm

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I say at the outset that we support the need for the specification of the two organisations proscribed by this statutory instrument. I deplore the violence that occurred during the summer. There was loss of life as a result of the feud between the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the Ulster Volunteer Force—although the majority of the violence came from the UVF. That is why it is right that the Minister has afforded us the opportunity to debate this measure, although it had to be taken in urgent circumstances. Like the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, I endorse the reasons why the Secretary of State had to act with haste to address the issue.

I condemn the attacks on the police that occurred around the time of the Whiterock parade. There is clear evidence that during those attacks members of the UVF opened fire on the police. One can never justify anyone opening fire on police officers. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) referred to whether there is logic and sanity in terrorism. The idea that people who describe themselves as loyalists would open fire on the forces of the Crown beggars belief. It is right for the Government to act in the way that they have.

I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, however, about double standards. I have a few questions to which I hope the Minister will respond in his closing remarks. It is true that the UVF and the Red Hand Commando unit are practically one and the same. The Red Hand Commando is more or less a flag of convenience for the UVF. There is, if not
Column Number: 9
100 per cent. cross-over between the two groups, certainly a very close commonality between their membership. What steps does the Minister believe that the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando would need to take in future to be despecified? The Government have the power to introduce a further statutory instrument to despecify one or all of the organisations listed in the explanatory notes to this statutory instrument. We must be clear about where the Government are on the issue.

As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury pointed out, even though the Independent Monitoring Commission stated in its recent reports that all the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland have been involved in unlawful activities, the Government clearly have somewhere—either written down or in the mind of the Secretary of State—a line that an organisation must cross before it can be specified. That suggests that there is a permissible level of crime and violence that an organisation can engage in, or at least that a blind eye is turned to such activity before the Government take the view that the organisation ought to be specified. Since the Provisional IRA was despecified, it has been involved in acts of crime and violence, yet the Secretary of State has not proposed at any time that it should be specified for the purposes of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

The Minister will also be aware of the case of Sean Kelly, the so-called Shankill bomber, who was arrested by the police on the basis of evidence produced by the Chief Constable for the Secretary of State. Kelly had been released early under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act and was re-arrested because he was deemed to be in breach of the terms of his licence. The Secretary of State said at the time that he believed that Kelly presented a danger to the public and was re-engaged in acts of terrorism or preparation for acts of terrorism. However, 12 hours before the IRA issued its statement at the end of July, the Secretary of State announced that Kelly was to be released from prison again. He cited the prospect of an IRA statement as the reason for the change of context, allowing Kelly to be released.

I know that Kelly was released most recently under legislation that is different and separate from the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act: legislation relating to prisons in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, it raises the question of whether the Government allow the import of a statement made by an organisation to colour and influence their judgment on an individual’s eligibility for release and, by extension, on whether an organisation should be specified or despecified.

That brings me to the question of the Loyalist Volunteer Force. I have never been an advocate of the early release of prisoners. I voted against the legislation when it was considered in the House in 1998, and I am certainly not advocating the premature release of any prisoner. However, I am anxious to explore the extent to which there are double standards on the part of the Government. Given that the Loyalist Volunteer Force recently issued a statement, to which the Minister referred in his opening remarks, to indicate that it had stood down its active service units
Column Number: 10
and was “leaving the stage”, do the Government have any plans to review the specification of the LVF? There are a number of people in prison who have links with that organisation, so the community needs to be prepared for the prospect that the Government may review the LVF’s position. It continues to be specified under the terms of this statutory instrument.

I therefore ask the Minister to clarify where the Government are going on the question of the Loyalist Volunteer Force in the light of its recent statement, and what bearing that statement will have on the issue of specification and on the question of any remaining prisoners who might be eligible for early release under the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

I also ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s position with regard to the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters. Again, like the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando, the UDA and the UFF are more or less the same organisation, and yet neither is listed as an organisation specified for the purposes of this instrument or the 1998 Act.

The IMC has indicated that both organisations have been involved in acts of crime and violence in recent times. That raises a question: why does one paramilitary group that is engaged in violence and criminality not qualify for specification, but another organisation that is engaged in similar acts does qualify? Where do the Government draw the line? What is the quantum? What makes for good behaviour and what makes for bad behaviour? The Government need to address that issue and we need to hear more about that aspect, because it relates to the question of double standards raised by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury. The hon. Gentleman and I are entitled to clarification of the Government’s position on that matter.

We will support the statutory instrument. I conclude my remarks by saying that we believe that it is right to uphold the rule of law, but we want to encourage those organisations that have engaged in crime and violence to complete the transition by moving away from criminality and terrorism and choosing the path of peace. I know that there is an internal debate going on within the UVF and within the UDA, and we want to encourage that. We want to encourage those who argue in favour of ending violence and crime for good and of proceeding to the decommissioning of their illegal weapons.

Although this statutory instrument is a necessary step at this point, I hope that in time the organisations that it specifies will wise up and recognise that if someone wants to be known as a loyalist and wants to serve the people of Northern Ireland and the community that they represent, they do not achieve that by beating up people in that community or in any other community, by opening fire on the police, or by continuing to engage in crime and violence against their own community and the state. Those are not the actions of someone who would describe themselves as a loyalist.

Column Number: 11

2.58 pm

Mr. Woodward: I thank the hon. Members for Tewkesbury, for Montgomeryshire and for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and my hon. Friends, for their support for the order.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury asked why it had taken so long to introduce the order. It is worth bearing in mind the fact that the sixth report of the IMC was published in September and that the feud had been going on throughout the summer. During that time there was considerable engagement with loyalism and loyalists, and assurances were given that the UVF was to desist, but it did not. That feud continued until 10 September, when the Whiterock parade took place, which involved so-called loyalists and members of the UVF and others in the violence that I cited in my opening remarks. There was no clear water between the feuding over the summer and the Whiterock parade itself. However, it became clear after that parade, after a review of the evidence, and on the advice of the Chief Constable, that the Secretary of State should act to specify the UVF, because of its involvement in the Whiterock parade.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley asked why the UDA had not been specified. Although clearly the UDA has been involved in recent violence, including that associated with the Whiterock parade, judging its case in the round the Secretary of State concluded that there were insufficient grounds at present to specify the UDA. However, I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will continue to keep its circumstances and those of all other proscribed organisations under review.

The issue of thresholds was raised and hon. Members asked how the decisions are made. They are particularly difficult decisions, which are not always straightforward, as hon. Members would acknowledge. The decision needs to be taken in the round and often in the context of very fast-moving and changing circumstances. In coming to a judgment on the specification of an organisation, the Secretary of State must take into account the four factors set out in section 3(9) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act. A judicial review in 1999 additionally confirmed that other factors could also be considered, provided they were relevant to section 3(8)(b), such as whether an organisation

    “has not established or is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.”

However, it is extremely important to remember that those factors are not absolute criteria. In coming to a judgment in the round, the Secretary of State will take into account briefing from the Chief Constable and other security advisers, much of which is based on intelligence. Of course, it would not be appropriate to put such intelligence into the public domain.

Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 10 November 2005