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Mark Durkan: The Bill makes some provisions in respect of jurors that we do not take issue with. We see the need to protect jurors. However, when the Government presented the Terrorism Act 2006, they were clear that the circumstances were going to allow Diplock courts to be abolished after, at the latest, July
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2008. There is now provision for them to continue as an available option in perpetuity, without being subject to renewal legislation in the House. That is a huge change. That has happened in circumstances in which the Government are telling us that the security situation and the prospects for the future are even better than they were then. However, now we can no longer have those time limits. That is the point that we are making to the Government.

It seems that there are people in government and in other parties who treat the Human Rights Commission as though it were some sort of subversive interest as far as Northern Ireland life is concerned. The Human Rights Commission is tasked with ensuring that people in Northern Ireland have their human rights upheld and respected. Where it has doubts or questions about that, it can have recourse to assistance, and challenges can be made that will support it in that regard. That is about good government, accountability and creating guarantees for the citizens of Northern Ireland that the sort of abuses that were suffered in the past are not going to be repeated in the future. It is a guarantee that no political interest or political power in the future—devolved or otherwise—can set aside people’s human rights considerations and international obligations. Given all the doubts and fears that people in Northern Ireland have, I would have thought that everybody would want the assurance that there is a strong and meaningful human rights body, rather than a token agency.

Sammy Wilson: Given the earlier reservations that Members had about much of the legislation, does it surprise the hon. Gentleman that the Human Rights Commission has no such fears about the impact that the legislation might have on the human rights of people who would be subjected to these regulations?

Mark Durkan: I thought that I was ending my speech, rather than giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that he accurately represents the Human Rights Commission’s position. Indeed, I do not think that the Secretary of State fully and accurately represented its position. However, we will allow the Human Rights Commission to speak for itself. I am prepared to accord it that trust and I hope that other hon. Members will, too.

3.35 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I will be rather briefer, I hope, than the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), although of course he took several lengthy interventions.

I give my broad support to the Bill, but as the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), knows full well, I have reservations about it, some of which members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee share. I do not know whether the Committee members share all my reservations because we have not discussed the Bill in great detail. That is my first objection.

There was not the need for hurry on the Bill that the Secretary of State suggested—it could have been introduced next year. I would have preferred it to be introduced after we had seen the Assembly
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re-established in Northern Ireland and working properly. That could have been done, although the Secretary of State had the right to take the decision that he made. I also would have preferred the Bill to have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny; many of the points raised in interventions have underlined the wisdom of that course.

I intervened on the Secretary of State to say that there was unanimity in the Committee on the principle of the need, reluctantly, to continue to hold certain trials without juries. Indeed, that was one of the recommendations that were made in our report on organised crime in July. Equally, however, although I was grateful that the Secretary of State and the Attorney-General met the Committee and discussed these matters with us, the Secretary of State knows that I would have preferred the ultimate decision to have rested with the Attorney-General. That is not the same as what others have advocated—that the judge should have the final say—but I believe that the first Law Officer of the Crown would have been an appropriate person. I trust that those points can be debated in greater detail in Committee and put to the test.

Regardless of where we sit in the House, I think that we are all waiting anxiously to find out what will happen in the first two months of next year. I was glad that the hon. Member for Foyle made this point about Sinn Fein: whatever hang-ups or reservations Sinn Fein might have about the devolution of policing and justice, that should not prevent it from signing up to the police aspects now. He made that point unequivocally and I am grateful that he did so.

Mark Durkan indicated assent.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Gentleman reaffirms his point. I hope that that message will go to Sinn Fein because it is the one vital step that must be taken before devolution can be restored in Northern Ireland. I do not agree with everything that the Democratic Unionist party or any other party says, but I completely agree with the DUP and the hon. Gentleman that that is the necessary step. Not only is the step necessary, but it must be taken very quickly, because we must be able to see that Sinn Fein truly means what it says.

Last week, the Committee went to Northern Ireland and had the opportunity to hear evidence in public from people who are responsible for community restorative justice schemes. We met some impressive people in Kilcooley, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). We also met representatives of the CRJ Ireland scheme in Andersonstown in west Belfast. We met extremely nice and well-motivated people in both places, but we saw a significant difference. Northern Ireland Alternatives, which runs the scheme that we saw in the morning and other similar schemes, is unequivocally committed to, and signed up with, the police. The scheme that we saw in the afternoon most emphatically was not, and it is necessary that it should be. When the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland gave evidence to us—it is all on the record—he made it plain that although he would like the schemes to cover the whole of Northern Ireland, they would have to be depoliticised, and would have to work as part of the
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criminal justice system, with the police. That is essential. It is against that background that we should consider the Bill, which I think is slightly premature.

We must remember that the current, strangely reconstituted Assembly in Northern Ireland will be dissolved on 30 January. After that, there will be no Assembly, and there will be elections on 7 March. There must be movement before 30 January, because we need to hold an election that is conducted after a cleanly fought campaign between parties, all of which are committed to, and signed up to, the rule of law. If that happens, who knows when it might be appropriate to devolve police and justice powers? However, that will not happen until there has been a decent period of time in which to see how people of all parties react, and until it has been seen that the Assembly and the power-sharing Executive are working properly.

There has been a great deal of talk about normalisation in this debate, and we all want Northern Ireland to be a normal, functioning part of the United Kingdom. We should bear in mind the terrible legacy and background of the past 36 years or more—that is the length of time that has passed since the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I first entered the House in 1970. It has been a difficult time, but there is absolutely no doubt that in the past decade things have improved considerably, for which we are all grateful. However, normalisation has not yet been achieved, and when we in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee produced our report on organised crime in the summer, we made it plain that there was still many a step to take.

Last week, when the Committee was in Northern Ireland, we had the opportunity to meet and talk to former paramilitaries, from both the so-called loyalist side—I do not like to use the words “loyalist” and “paramilitary” in the same sentence—and the republican nationalist side. I hope that they are sincere and genuine in saying that they have put paramilitary involvement behind them, but we have to put what they say to the test. Until we have done so, there will not be the normality that we all crave for Northern Ireland, to which the Bill hopes to make a contribution.

I promised to be brief, and I have been brief, but I should like to conclude by saying that although I would rather the Bill had been introduced a little later, I will support it. I shall not vote against it, either on Second or Third Reading, and I hope that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) will come to realise that there is a difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Government have properly recognised that difference in the Bill, and we hon. Members should recognise it, too.

Lady Hermon: It is exceedingly generous of the hon. Gentleman to allow me to intervene. Before he completes his contribution and proceeds to support the Bill without any hesitation, may I ask him, as the Member representing South Staffordshire—a constituency in England, obviously—whether he is content for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to have the power to call for someone in his constituency

Is he content with those powers, which will affect his constituency?

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Sir Patrick Cormack: We will have to wait to see whether they will affect my constituency or not. I did not say that I supported the Bill unreservedly; the hon. Lady takes my words a step too far. I said that I was content to support it. I am particularly concerned about the provisions on trial without jury, and I have expressed those reservations. I know that some of them are shared by other members of the Select Committee, including the hon. Lady. None the less, I believe that it is necessary to recognise the differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The implicit powers in the Bill for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, to which the hon. Lady referred, should certainly be examined carefully in Committee. Given my other commitments, I hope not to serve on the Committee, but I hope to play a part on Report. Like all Bills, this Bill can be improved. If it had received the pre-legislative scrutiny that I proposed, and if the Government had not rushed it, we might not have had all the discussions that have taken place this afternoon. On that note, I shall conclude.

3.45 pm

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I approach the debate as someone who is interested—too interested, some would say—in Northern Ireland. Even so, I am an outside observer. We are talking about “normalisation”—a horrible word—and how far we have gone down the road to achieve it. Yesterday, some of us were in Northern Ireland for the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your capacity as Chairman. I should like to put on record our thanks for the welcome that we received from the great people of Belfast. I was taken by the fact that there was a Christmas market outside City hall. Germans were trying to sell us sausages, and Italians were trying to sell us sweets and wine. There was a mixture of accents—as for me, English was their second language—and it took me back 15 or 20 years, when the only non-Northern Irish voices that we heard in the streets were those of Cockney or Yorkshire squaddies saying, “Show us your driver’s licence or your passport. Open your car boot. Show us what is in your bag or wallet.” There is a huge difference, because where there were once security posts there are now market stalls—that is the reality of so-called normalisation.

We have come a long way, but we must consider how far we have travelled on that long road, and whether the proposals in the Bill are necessary. Anyone who visits Northern Ireland will not experience any difficulty travelling around, or in undertaking daily activities such as shopping, eating and drinking. The situation is vastly different, and it is a clear sign that things have changed. We talk about normalisation but, in truth, “normality” in Northern Ireland has probably never meant what it means in the rest of Great Britain. We are looking for a new normality that accepts that we live in a globalised world with global challenges. It says that we can never return to a world in which the use of force and the fear of intimidation are the basis on which our community is built.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) chairs the Northern Ireland Affairs
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Committee in an exemplary way. He is non-partisan, and has tried to provide challenges, both to the Government and to Northern Ireland politicians. I want to look at the things that we discovered in our work on security, and discuss two areas that show the progress that has been made as well as the challenge that we face. First, the Select Committee is conducting an inquiry on tourism. In early October, we went to Northern Ireland, and we have been taking evidence ever since. We saw the quality of the tourism industry that has developed in Northern Ireland, and the fantastic opportunities that are available. People from all over the world visit Northern Ireland and, by spending their money there, provide genuine hope for the future. There is a strong interest in encouraging more people to come, to stay longer and spend more money, so that we can build Northern Ireland into a place that we can all enjoy and of which everyone in the British Isles can be proud and can boast about to the rest of the world.

The other side of normalisation, as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire said, became clear in our work on organised crime. Clearly, such crime takes place in mainland Britain—there is much more than anyone wants—but in Northern Ireland there is a history of paramilitary involvement, and the worry is that people who learned their trade fighting security forces will use those lessons to intimidate ordinary people.

People trying to go about their ordinary day-to-day lives face threats and extortion. People who are trying to build houses and public service institutions are told, “You either do as you are told, or when you come to work tomorrow morning, the building won’t be there. It will be damaged or destroyed.” We took evidence from a gentleman who had to hand over a six-figure sum every year just to keep his buildings intact and his equipment safe. That is not the sort of world that anyone could call normal.

Smuggling of all sorts of products, from oil to soap powder, takes place. The mind-boggling variety and scale of counterfeiting shows the ingenuity of some of the people on that island and undermines the concept of normalisation. At a time when the sad events in Ipswich are to the fore, exploitation in the form of people trafficking, particularly for sex, is increasing in Northern Ireland. These are some of the issues confronting the police and the legal system there. Behind it all is the worry that terror, and the history and impact of terror, are still there. That must be borne in mind as we consider how to take forward the so-called normalisation process.

Last week the Committee had a session with the police in Northern Ireland. They gave us a run-down of what had happened in this year’s marching season, which should gladden all of us in Parliament. For the first time in almost four decades, there was no need to use troops on the streets to police the marching season. That did not happen by accident. The police force, the security forces, political parties from all sides, the Parades Commission and, above all, people on the ground got together and worked out a way of bringing the almost 3,000 marches to a relatively peaceful conclusion.

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On the back of that report, we also saw evidence of what happened just 12 months previously at Whiterock, where blast bombs were used, people were clearly shooting at police, and devices were found and dismantled before they could cause further harm. There is evidence of increased activity by dissident republicans, which should worry us all. We want to move from a terror-led past to a respect-driven future, but the path is not easy. The Bill reflects the great progress that has been made on that journey.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee met Ministers and the Attorney-General. We expressed our cross-party concern that we had not participated in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, and we were worried about whether matters should be moving as fast as they are. We recognise that intimidation and, perhaps more important, the fear of intimidation still exist and might prevent people from coming forward. They want to do so but they are frightened that, if they do, they will not receive justice and violence will be visited on them. There are also worries that if people volunteer to sit on juries, they will not be able to do so as we in Great Britain do, and that they would not be picked for jury service in the same free and independent manner as those of us who have done jury service in this country expect to be the norm.

For that reason, most of us have said that we will support the Bill, at least in the short term. We are happy that things are moving forward and that we have come a long way, although we are convinced that there is still a long way to go. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) may not agree, although I agree with him, that through the Bill we are putting in place an abnormal situation. We should all work as hard as possible to remove that abnormality. I know that that is the Government’s intention, but anxiety has been expressed across the House today about whether, once the measure is enshrined, it will ever be removed. Non-jury trials should be seen as the exception, rather than the norm.

Hon. Members have taken a strong position on the extended powers of the Human Rights Commission. I think that it has done a good job in Northern Ireland. We all know that there was a need for it. In the time that I have been involved in Northern Ireland, there has seemed to be a “business” around human rights, and it is good to have one concentrated human rights body doing the work that needs to be done. I welcome the fact that it will be able to get into places of detention and have access to evidence.

Sammy Wilson: I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the work of the Human Rights Commission. Since prisons are already heavily regulated and inspected by inspectors of prisons, prison visitors and so on, what added value will it bring to the prison regime in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Anderson: This debate is about what is and what is not normal. The hon. Gentleman knows better than I do that this is a matter of trust. People from certain areas of Northern Ireland give the commission the trust that they do not give to other bodies. We may not like it, but they say, “I’ve got faith in what these people
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do.” If it carries out an investigation that backs up the work that other agencies are doing, surely that is in everybody’s interests and is the right way to move forward.

Earlier, I intervened on the Secretary of State about the extra powers for the police and the Army. I share some of the grave concerns that have been expressed. I am particularly worried that people may use this as a political ploy, and say, “You’re moving the goalposts, so we cannot sign up to policing in the way that we believe we should.” I have said on the record that I believe that members of Sinn Fein and any other people who want to involve themselves in democratic processes in this House or in any other democratic part of our society should support the police and the work that they do. They should work with the police irrespective of whether they like them individually or respect what they have allegedly been involved with in the past. If they want to play a part as democratic representatives, they owe it to the people they represent to be involved. I hope that the Bill does not get in the way of that.

The current situation is not normal. If we say to everybody in Northern Ireland, “We want you to act as normally, in every sense, as people in the rest of Great Britain,” we have to say the same to the police and to the Army. The Secretary of State said—I will read his speech in Hansard with great interest—that there are various areas where the police and the Army are not allowed to go under the existing legislation. I would have thought they could already go to all those areas, so why insert these additional powers? I think that “pregnant” was the right term to use. We all know what we end up with when there is pregnancy in an unblessed relationship—I hope that is not so in this case.

My final point concerns the private security industry. As the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said, it is right and proper to work with people in the industry, who work with everybody from the daft to the deadly. They need to be trained and looked after properly so that they are not exploited, but they also need to be capable of doing the job properly.

I will look with great interest at what emerges in Committee and on Report. I hope that the Bill’s Third Reading will be the start of a really happy new year for everyone in Northern Ireland, and I express that sentiment to everybody in this House today.

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