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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates
Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill

Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill




 
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Standing Committee E

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen:

David Taylor and

Ann Winterton†

†Anderson, Mr. David (Blaydon) (Lab)
†Bailey, Mr. Adrian (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op)
†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Burt, Lorely (Solihull) (LD)
†Campbell, Mr. Gregory (East Londonderry) (DUP)
†Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Dodds, Mr. Nigel (Belfast, North) (DUP)
†Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
†Hall, Mr. Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
Hermon, Lady (North Down) (UUP)
†Hillier, Meg (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
†Irranca-Davies, Huw (Ogmore) (Lab)
†MacDougall, Mr. John (Glenrothes) (Lab)
McCrea, Dr. William (South Antrim) (DUP)
†McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair (Belfast, South) (SDLP)
†Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
†Öpik, Lembit (Montgomeryshire) (LD)
†Palmer, Dr. Nick (Broxtowe) (Lab)
†Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
†Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
†Woodward, Mr. Shaun (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
†Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
John Benger, Susan Griffiths, Committee Clerks
      

† attended the Committee


 
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Tuesday 8 November 2005

[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill

10.30 am

The Chairman: I welcome hon. Members to the Committee dealing with this important legislation, especially those newer Members who may or may not have served on such a Committee before. Perhaps it is opportune to say to the gentlemen Committee members that if it gets a little too warm for them and they feel a hot flush coming on, it will be quite in order for them to remove their jackets.

Copies of the programme motion, agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee earlier this morning, are available in the Room. I remind the Committee that debate on the programme motion may continue for up to half an hour.

10.31 am

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

    That—

    (1)   during proceedings on the Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill the Standing Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 8th November) meet—

      (a)   at 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday 8th November;

      (b)   at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 10th November;

    (2)   the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 4.00 p.m. on Thursday 10th November.

Good morning, Lady Winterton, and I welcome you to the Chair. I am sure that all Committee members will welcome your expert guidance. I have removed my jacket; I have not done so because of a hot flush, but we shall see what happens during our proceedings.

It is good to see that we have started the Committee in a co-operative and constructive spirit, and I hope that that will prevail. We managed to agree the process through the usual channels, and the programme motion does not contain knives, so it is not intended to curtail what I am sure will be a very important, constructive debate.

This is obviously an extremely important Bill for the people of Northern Ireland. It is important that we have a constructive debate, and the Government want to listen to the arguments made by all sides regarding the content of the Bill, with the aim of ensuring that the legislation we put on the statute book serves the people of Northern Ireland as best as it possibly can. In that spirit of constructive engagement and in welcoming all members of the Committee, I support the motion.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Lady Winterton. It is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship and I very much look forward to it.


 
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The Opposition are always opposed in principle to programme motions because a Bill should have an adequate amount of time devoted to it. However, in this case, there are two overriding factors. First, the Bill is very short and, secondly, we are in favour of it in principle. So we shall not object to the programme motion and look forward to engaging in the debate.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): May I, too, add my welcome to you, Lady Winterton? I am sure that we shall enjoy the benefit of your guidance and expertise, particularly new Members, such as myself. It is my first time sitting on a Committee, so I apologise in advance if I do anything that is not entirely appropriate. Speaking of which, I have almost brought a hot flush on myself—I am more likely than most to experience that today.

I echo the sentiments on the constructive approach to this important Bill. I should also like to mention the Government Whip. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) says that he has never known a situation in which Whips have consulted more on programme motions.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that adequate notice of amendments should be given and, as a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments. I have another housekeeping notice: please would all Members ensure that mobile phones, pagers and so on are turned off or on silent mode? William Tell and his overture are not welcome in this Committee.

Clause 1

Continuance in force of Part 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I beg to move amendment No. 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out ‘2008’ and insert ‘2012’.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert

    ‘and may by order extend that period for further consecutive periods of twelve months.’.

No. 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out ‘2008’ and insert ‘2012’.

Mr. Campbell: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—or chairpersonship—Lady Winterton.

The Chairman: Order. It may help members of the Committee if I say that I am an absolute traditionalist and “Chairman” is to my mind the right term.

Mr. Campbell: I am delighted that you have dealt a blow to political correctness, Lady Winterton.

As was said during the brief debate on the programme motion, this is a short Bill and therefore you, Lady Winterton, and Committee members will be pleased to know that my remarks will be accordingly brief. I know that, occasionally, those are famous last
 
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words and when people begin by saying that, their contribution is anything but brief. However, that is certainly my intention.

The issue relates to the principle of caution. In last week’s debate on Second Reading, the word “caution” was repeated many times. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are of a cautionary nature. A message needs to be sent to the people of Northern Ireland that the legislation will continue not just for the next two or three years, but for a period of time beyond that. We all hope that terrorism comes to an end, does not return and, rather than increasing, diminishes and hopefully disappears. However, we need to ensure that the legislative process is in place to deal with a possible negative outturn.

As was stated in the Chamber, the Government have been prepared to proceed apace when responding to IRA statements and to moves in the peace process. Examples have been given and I do not wish to delay proceedings by repeating them. However, they include the release of Sean Kelly and the removal of watchtowers. All those were precipitative moves by the Government. When considering legislation, we want to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland understand that there will be no such precipitative move in this case. The insertion of “2012” in lieu of “2008” would send out a clear signal that the legislation is intended to be on the statute book for a period not exceeding another seven years and would be there in the eventuality that it was required.

Mr. Robertson: In my opening remarks, I said that the Bill has the support of the official Opposition, as was made clear on Second Reading. We also said that we deeply regret the need for it because we had hoped that paramilitary organisations would cease their activities, which would make the Bill unnecessary. Regrettably, that is not the case and I might go on to detail one or two reasons why in a moment. We regret the need for the Bill, but, nevertheless, we recognise that that need is there.

We desire normality in Northern Ireland. It is one of the many things that people in Northern Ireland want. They want to be treated normally and they want normality in the Province. That has not been the case to date, but it must be the desire of everybody in the Committee and throughout the Province.

Amendment No. 4 is slightly different from our proposal. It would give the Secretary of State the power to continue provisions in the Terrorism Act 2000 until 2012. We sympathise with that, but we propose that the Secretary of State has the power to extend the provisions annually to, for example, 2012 or beyond if deemed necessary. They should be extended annually so that every year we have the chance to consider the situation in Northern Ireland and determine whether it is necessary to extend the period in which the provisions apply.

There can be no doubt that the provisions of the 2000 Act need to be extended. The recent Independent Monitoring Commission report says:

    “The involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime goes deep.”


 
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That is a profound statement. It goes on to say:

    “We have concluded that because of this paramilitary involvement organised crime is the biggest long term threat to the rule of law in Northern Ireland.”

It follows up that statement by saying:

    “The criminals are flexible and resilient.”

“Long term” and “resilient” demonstrate why we tabled our amendment and, I am sure, why the hon. Gentleman tabled his. We are not convinced that by 2008 the situation will be normal. The Government could at that point introduce primary legislation to extend the provisions of the 2000 Act, but it could be done better if it were based on our proposal.

We are concerned about the situation in Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt that in certain ways there has been much improvement. We welcome the IRA statement and the statement that followed, suggesting that all IRA arms had been put beyond use. We are worried, however, because we have yet to hear that the proceeds from the Northern bank robbery have been put beyond use. That money is unaccounted for, we do not know where it is and we do not know the purpose of the bank robbery. All we know is that the Government, the Irish Government and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have stated that the IRA was responsible for the robbery. It did not take place long ago, so the proceeds must still exist. Even if the IRA had disposed of all its weaponry, the purchase of more is well within its capability. While that situation exists, we need the provisions before us.

On the so-called loyalist side—I do not like to refer to them as loyalists, but that is the term attached to them—a statutory instrument will tomorrow specify loyalist groups. That can hardly be described as normality. There have been six murders so far this year and 69 shootings and 70 beatings in the period between 1 March and 31 August, and the feud between the Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force continues.

I sat in with the police in Belfast and watched the video tape of the riots just a few weeks ago. I said this on the Floor of the House and I repeat it now: it was shameful to see people who were wearing Orange Order sashes take them off and throw missiles at the police and incite others to do similar. That is wrong, it is an absolute outrage and it cannot be described as normality.

On both sides of the divide, criminality and violence continue. Again the IMC report notes:

    “Unreported acts of intimidation are far more numerous than acts of violence, are often traumatic in their impact and are not recorded in statistics.”

As well as recorded violence, there is a background of intimidation. Again, that cannot be described as normality.

Although amendment No. 6 is similar to the amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman, ours is slightly more flexible. I therefore commend it to the Committee.


 
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10.45 am

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I welcome you to your position as Chairman of this Committee, Lady Winterton. You may be interested to know that at a debate at the university of Oxford last Thursday on political correctness it was pointed out to me that the term chairman derives not from the “chair” and the male of our species, but from “chair” and the French for hand. Therefore, to be a Chairman is to have one’s hand on the Chair. No greater or more impressive Chair could we have than Lady Winterton—although I seek neither favour nor peerage for having said so.

The Democratic Unionist party amendments would change the date when the provisions of the Bill will fall to 1 August 2012 and therefore extend the period of the orders from the two and a half years proposed to seven and a half years. The Liberal Democrats disagree with that change. We are talking about special provisions for Northern Ireland to deal with a special situation that does not extend to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is right for the Government to keep the situation under review, especially given that we are trying to normalise Northern Ireland rather than entrench the divide between Northern Irish law and that pertaining to the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we supported the Bill on Second Reading only because the Government seemed intensely aware of the need to time-limit the legislation.

Furthermore, the DUP amendments would enable an annual review by Parliament in the form of a statutory instrument, but such measures cannot be amended. We would not be able to seek to repeal any sections of part 7 of the 2000 Act or modify it in the intervening years. For that reason, we would be minded to oppose the DUP amendments.

Amendment No. 6, tabled by the Conservatives, is similar to the DUP amendment but goes even further by being open-ended. There is no definite date by which the Government would have to come back to Parliament with primary legislation, which makes me uncomfortable. As right hon. and hon. Members know, I am uncomfortable about the extent to which we already use statutory instruments for important legislation on Northern Ireland. I have certainly had the impression that Conservative Members share my concern that substantial pieces of legislation affecting Northern Ireland continue to be an all-or-nothing affair. Therefore, I ask them to think again. Do they really want to add another tranche of statutory instrument Committees to the annual merry-go-round that already occupies so much of our time yet provides us with so little opportunity to amend Government legislation on Northern Ireland? The whole House should have the opportunity to discuss and take decisions on such legislation, not just a few Members on a Standing Committee.

I look forward to what the Minister has to say, but for those reasons we would be minded to oppose the three amendments.


 
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Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I rise to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell). The primary motivation for tabling the amendments is the ongoing nature of the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, not just the threat from one particular paramilitary terrorist organisation. We know that, with the statement at the end of July and the further act of decommissioning that we are told took place in September, the threat from the Provisional IRA appears to be diminishing.

In my constituency on Saturday, at the annual festival of racing at the Down Royal race course, we had a clear example of the ongoing threat from terrorism, when the Continuity IRA, one of the so-called dissident republican groups, planted a device, albeit one not capable of exploding, and phoned some warnings through to the race course. As a result, the meeting had to be abandoned. Ten thousand people were there, many of them visitors from the Irish Republic and Great Britain, and significant disruption was caused.

Earlier in the week the national conference of shopping centres at the Waterfront hall in Belfast—a major conference that we had managed to attract to Belfast—was also disrupted by bomb warnings, and the hall had to be evacuated. In the summer the annual oyster festival took place in Hillsborough in my constituency. On that occasion dissident republican groups planted a device, which caused the festival to be abandoned for the day.

Those may not seem like big events or to represent a significant threat in the wider scheme of things, but they disrupt the life of Northern Ireland, they damage our economy and the positive image of Northern Ireland that we are trying to promote, and they are evidence that there remains a threat from terrorism.

Even if, in the recent words of Gerry Adams, the Provisional IRA is of a mind that the war is over—if it ever was a war—and even if the loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, follow the position adopted recently by the Loyalist Volunteer Force and decide to stand down their active service units and also to decommission their weapons, which one hopes they do, the dissident republican groups, mainly the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, have been clear: their campaign continues. They refute absolutely the political agenda pursued by Sinn Fein. They have made it clear that they regard Sinn Fein as, for whatever reason, having betrayed the true republican vision. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein has had to settle for a great deal less than a united Ireland—indeed, even for partition. Therefore, the threat is there. That is why we as a party believe that it is prudent to extend the life of the Bill beyond that envisaged by the Government. For the foreseeable future, and certainly beyond the period stated in the Bill, there remains a threat from terrorism.

Let us not forget that the Omagh bomb, which was the worst atrocity in the terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland, was perpetrated by the Real Ira, one of those dissident groups that is not on ceasefire and
 
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continues to be a real threat to stability in Northern Ireland. That is why we believe that the amendments to extend the duration of the legislation to 2012 are prudent. They send out a clear signal, to the dissident groups and to the loyalist paramilitary groups that have not yet made the necessary moves to establish a peaceful society, that the Government will protect the people of Northern Ireland, uphold the rule of law and take whatever special measures are necessary to protect our community. That is why we support the Bill in principle, but believe that its lifespan should be extended to the period proposed by the amendments.

Mr. Woodward: It has been a helpful discussion. It has covered a number of areas and touched on critical issues relating to the enabling environment, security normalisation and the way in which we should proceed constructively and optimistically and whether that is reasonably based.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) rightly referred to the appalling incidents at the race course on Saturday and to the interruption of the oyster festival at Hillsborough in the summer. I happened to be the duty Minister on both those weekends, so I was in the Province when those incidents happened. There is no question but that such incidents are hugely disruptive, but the judgment we must make is whether those interruptions justify preventing us from moving forward with the enabling environment to create security normalisation. Our judgment is that, however appalling the actions and however strongly we condemn them—we absolutely and unreservedly do that—we should not interrupt the progress towards the goal of security normalisation, which we would if we acceded to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry. I shall explore some of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman when speaking to his two amendments.

The amendments would allow the Secretary of State to make an order continuing part 7 in force for a period ending before 1 August 2012. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the pace of security normalisation and the continuing need for the provisions, and I want to put on record that I share his sense of caution about how we should proceed, but we must make a judgment about how we exercise that caution and the signals that we would send out.

Of course we recognise that we have a duty to protect the safety of everyone in all communities in Northern Ireland, and that leads us to be cautious, but we must distinguish between being cautious and allowing that caution to damage the optimism that I believe genuinely exists and on which we are making progress. Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are committed to a programme of security normalisation culminating in the repeal of these provisions, we do not take the enabling environment for granted. Therefore, the Bill contains provisions to extend the life of part 7 for a further year after 2007, and that will be used if the enabling environment is not sustained and security normalisation is not possible within that time frame.


 
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The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) seeks in his amendment to put the part 7 revisions on a semi-permanent footing by allowing the Secretary of State to extend them for consecutive periods of 12 months without a final end date. We are committed to repealing part 7 as part of the security normalisation programme, which means that there is an end date in sight for the provisions, and that is right. The hon. Gentleman referred to the IMC, which has a vital role in verifying the commitments made in the IRA’s statement on 28 July. The IMC will produce an additional report in January 2006 to enable us to see what progress has been made on the ground.

That is not the only advice that we take. We also take very seriously the advice of the Secretary of State’s chief security adviser, the Chief Constable. Again, it is worth bearing in mind that all the progress that we are making and the legislation before the House is based not only on IMC reports but on other intelligence and security advice, which is led by the Chief Constable. It is in the context of that collective advice that we believe that it is right to put this legislation on the statute book in its present form, while recognising that there are no guarantees. That is why it is right to give ourselves the option of being able to renew the legislation for a further year.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I made clear on Second Reading, if we had to renew the legislation for a further year and if during that time it became apparent that despite our ambition for the enabling environment to achieve security normalisation the security situation in Northern Ireland had not been achieved, we would not play fast and loose with the security of people in Northern Ireland.

However, we believe that substantial progress has been made and, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, we should operate in a climate of optimism. If we give way to the activities of dissident republicans and their appalling behaviour at the race course on Saturday, if we let them win the day and if we withdraw the proposals and give way to the amendments, we would cede the ground to those people. We cannot do that. There is undoubtedly still a problem with activity by dissident so-called loyalists and republicans in Northern Ireland, but if we measure the activity and the crime—crime is the right word—of those individuals in comparison with that committed just a few years ago, we see that the activities are different and the scale far diminished.

It is probably relevant to remind all members of the Committee of Whiterock. I was there and I saw the appalling violence that took place, but again we must put it in context: it was nothing like as bad as historically it has been. That does not mean that we should condone the actions of those involved at Whiterock, but we should put it on the record that the activities that took place that evening were carried out by dissident individuals.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury referred to the way in which the loyalists’ reputation has been traduced by being called into question over
 
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Whiterock. I think that those criminals should be called “so-called loyalists”. They do not remotely pertain to the decent behaviour of upstanding members of the Orange Order, many of whom I met yesterday again to discuss the events of Whiterock in looking forward to next year’s parade season. We must distinguish between the activities of a few individuals on both sides of the community who wish to prevent us from making progress in Northern Ireland and the will of the overall majority of the people of Northern Ireland to live in a secure environment. I believe that the measures in the Bill allow that, allow the enabling environment and allow us to move towards security normalisation, but let us take nothing for granted.

11 am

 
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