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3.59 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): When Governments bring in legislation, they often face the criticism that it is too little, too late. On the contrary, I fear that the centrepiece of this legislation represents a move too far and too soon. The record will show that I am no supporter of the Diplock courts. In fact, I served on the Committee of this House that considered the original Bill. I have always believed that it is right, where possible, that an accused be entitled to trial by his peers. When circumstances are not normal, however, severer laws must apply and courts must function in spite of the threats put on them.

I want to pay tribute to the judges who served in the Diplock courts, and to their integrity, faithfulness, honesty and courage. Of course, we should put it on
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record that some of them paid the supreme price for that. I believe with all my heart that those people did that job in a very difficult day and time, and they should be praised and not blamed. The House brought them into existence, and it should show its gratitude to them.

Those judges also administered the system in a manner that was widely accepted. After the first rows over such courts, it gradually came to be known that they were doing their best under the circumstances to give justice to those who were brought before them. While I do not want judge-only cases to continue beyond what is necessary, I believe that the interests of justice will be better served if they are not prematurely removed. That is my attitude to the Bill. While the Democratic Unionist party can see strong arguments for reform, we do not believe that the environment exists for the change to be made at present.

I remind the House that there is a regulation that can de-schedule many such cases. In fact, 85 to 90 per cent. of scheduled offences are now de-scheduled. Even now, there is no reason why other cases cannot be followed by de-scheduling. We need to keep that in mind. Normalisation in this area can take place of its own accord only when we see that it is time that it should be done.

It should be put on record that, in the original debates, Unionist jurors received the most criticism. They were attacked on both sides of the House on the grounds that they could not be trusted. I never agreed with that. I believe that there are good jurors in both Unionist and nationalist communities who want to see justice done and right prevail. I objected strongly, of course, to the many speeches attacking the moral character of Unionist jurors. I utterly reject such claims.

I believe that the time has come to move away from what will ultimately be a sop to those who do not like justice at all. I am afraid that part of the Bill has a political colour about it, and that an attempt has been made to reach a conclusion by making offers to people. No Government have the right to lower the standard of justice in order to do a political deal.

I welcome very much the statement made in the House today by the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party about the attitude of his party to policing. I agree that the time has come for the Government to tell Sinn Fein that it must agree to policing. I am not in normal times a supporter of power sharing, and in particular I would not be a supporter of those with whom we are asked to share power, but if in these conditions people have to accept power sharing and do so without trying to renegotiate it—if they bow the knee and say, “Yes, all right. We have to do that”—I expect the other side to adopt the same attitude and respect the police. I welcome what the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) said about democrats having to accept the honesty in policing.

I am glad that today’s debate is different from the debate 10 years ago. We are pleased that everyone is coming to see that the time has come when justice must be respected, the courts must be respected and the police must be respected. I was glad to hear a notable nationalist, who professed to be a republican, say on the radio, “Nobody but the Police Service of Northern
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Ireland can help us in our community. We need them there.” When the wave of lawlessness is flowing rapidly and in spate in many places, we need the police. We should give our loyalty to them. That does not mean that we have to believe in the absolute integrity of every police officer or that we do not protest if he is not doing what is right. I am talking about proper respect for the police and obedience to the laws of this country. That needs to be established and reinforced.

Having had the St. Andrews agreement, I trust that the Government will not allow themselves to be dragged into a renegotiation of policing. That has to stand. If there is any attempt to change it, it will be the end. We must be sincere about this and say it: change—tamper with—what was agreed at St. Andrews, based on everyone having to bow the knee and accept the rule of law, and the Government finish all negotiations. That would be a dreadful thing at this time. None of us wants it, but we must remember that it is not our decision; it is the decision of those who have to face up to the problem. They have to face it, and the Government have to force them to face it. The Government cannot have two ways of negotiating, in which they say to Unionists, “You must do this,” and then say to the IRA, “Well, we might be able to dilute that a bit. We might have some way—some form of words—to do that.” It is not a form of words that we want, but real action. The people of Northern Ireland—the nationalist people and the Unionist people—will give their verdict on whether that is done or not. That is what we have to face.

I do not want to detain the House, but it needs to look at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, because it is not really a human rights commission, not the way that it is run today. I suffered from a vicious slander by the current chairwoman of the commission. In a radio broadcast, she accused me of taking a woman who was responsible for security at Stormont and getting my son to hold her until I beat her. That was broadcast all over Northern Ireland. Of course my lawyers moved; of course the BBC had to crawl and give an absolute withdrawal, and the woman had to crawl and make an absolute withdrawal. Let me be perfectly honest: I benefited a little financially. I was not worried about that, however. I was worried about my name. The Bible says that a minister of religion should not be a striker, and I was not going to be a striker.

Then, having lost her seat in the Assembly, the woman was given her position on the Human Rights Commission. We were told by the Government that she was the perfect person for the position. If that had been done on the other side of the camp—if a Unionist had slandered a nationalist or a republican, if that person had gone to court and received a payment and it had been proved that he was in the right, yet the other person had been elevated in that way—I can tell the House that there would have been some riot.

The case has arisen of another person who was appointed to a committee. Action is currently being taken, and I can make no further comment, but I say this to the House: how can the people of Northern Ireland depend on that person to preside over a human rights commission when she herself was not prepared to give a person the human right to go about his lawful business in the Stormont Parliament? I think that she is
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not fit to do that, and that she should not be there. The sooner the Government remove her from her position and replace her with a neutral person, the better it will be for everyone.

I think that the Human Rights Commission has failed. What will a debate on the legality of war in Iraq do for the ordinary people on the streets of Belfast who are trying to secure their human rights and go about their business? As for Northern Ireland’s involvement in the 11-plus, everyone knows my view on it, but I do not think it is a matter for the Human Rights Commission. There are other matters, too. The commission is always putting its foot in matters that are none of its business. It is time that it was reined in. I make a plea to the Minister: he must rein in the commission, and say, “There is your bailiwick. Yours is not a worldwide, global appointment. You have a job to do for Northern Ireland: get on and do the job for Northern Ireland.”

I hope that in Committee we shall have an opportunity to table amendments, and to debate some aspects of this matter. I trust that today’s debate, when it is reported in Northern Ireland, will prove useful to the people there. I take great encouragement from some of the things said by other speakers, and I believe that there is a way forward. Let us not be dragged backwards; let us take that way forward.

4.13 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I welcomed what I took to be his total, unqualified commitment to the pursuit of partnership in the administration of Northern Ireland. I hope that that, in conjunction with the commitment of the associated parties, will bear fruit in the near future, and that there will be a true partnership developing trust for all the people.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the Human Rights Commission, I suggest to him that he may be slightly prejudiced because of his adverse—as he sees it—personal relationship with members of the commission. I do not think anyone in the House would deny the necessity of human rights, or the desirability of a commission to deal with that important subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) strongly articulated many of the problems that my party identifies in this Bill, but that does not mean that there are not also positive things in it. One of the positives is—to follow on from the comments of the right hon. Member for North Antrim—the giving of investigatory powers to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Had they been in place earlier, there might have been different outcomes in certain matters in times past.

At present, the commission does not have the power to call on persons or to call for papers, or, where it is following a particular line of investigation that requires entry, to have the right to enter. There is nothing unique about such an organisation having such powers. That is laid down in the United Nations Paris principles on human rights—and, after all, a human rights body must have some investigatory powers, or
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how will it carry out its investigations? If there are no powers to get answers, there is no point in having an investigation, and therefore no point in having a commission. So such powers are essential.

There is also an anomaly in Ireland. The Irish Human Rights Commission has investigatory powers that were also to apply to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, but somehow they did not—they fell off the table, so to speak. In the north, the Equality Commission already has investigatory powers as, obviously, does the police ombudsman, and the children’s commissioner also rightly has powers of entry and inspection. Those are normal and necessary powers for any body to have that protects citizens and carries out investigations on behalf of the community.

We pointed out the failure to give those powers to the human rights commission during the passage through Parliament of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Secretary of State at that time gave a commitment that although it did not have those powers, full co-operation would be given to the commission in its investigations. As far as I know, that co-operation did not happen. The commission found itself on occasion refused entry into places of detention when it required to gain entry to pursue complaints that it was investigating.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McGrady: I shall do so shortly, after I have pursued my point a little further. Also, let me say that the hon. Lady has a most melodious voice and I would like to hear her question, but as I have difficulty hearing because of my personal disability, when she asks her question I request her to blast it at me.

The Secretary of State also said that he would review the commission’s powers in 2000. The commission waited and waited, and now, finally, we are to make some progress in that regard. I shall now give way.

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. There are many Members in this Chamber whom I would sometimes wish to blast at—they are sitting to my right on the Democratic Unionist party Benches—but the hon. Gentleman is not one of them.

I have a simple inquiry. The Paris principles to which the hon. Gentleman has rightly referred govern national human rights commissions, and therefore they are applicable to the Irish Human Rights Commission, but they are not applicable to a regional human rights commission, which is what the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is as Northern Ireland is a region of the United Kingdom.

Mr. McGrady: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, which gives me the opportunity to respond—although not as blastingly as she did—that the UN principles state that where there is no national organisation, as there is not in the situation we are discussing, the rights and privileges of such a commission should extend to regional commissions. The UN has been supportive of investigatory powers being given to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

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Often, what the Government give with one hand they claw back with the other, and that is what is really happening in the Bill before us. For example, and as Members have said, the commission can use its investigatory powers only in respect of matters arising after 1 January 2008. It cannot access any information or documents before that date, even if they are relevant to situations arising after that date. So it will be years before the commission can carry out proper investigations and get a full picture of that which it is investigating. It seems that six years of waiting for these powers is not long enough. In practice, under the terms of clause 19, it could well be another four or five years before the commission can carry out proper investigations.

Even then, the Bill provides for huge exceptions to the commission’s powers. Extraordinarily—there has already been much debate about this—it is expressly prohibited from considering whether any of the intelligence services has acted in any way that is incompatible with human rights. Under the terms of proposed new section 69B(5), which clause 14 would insert into the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the commission is prohibited from dealing with any other matters concerning human rights and the intelligence services. We need to be clear about this: it is not merely that the commission will not have the power to demand to speak to MI5 officials or to see their documents; it has no right to ask for such information. So in this regard, it will actually have fewer powers than it already has.

The commission can, however, investigate other human rights abuses, and in the course of those investigations, it might find that it needs access to intelligence material. It can ask, but there is absolutely no chance of getting such access. As the Secretary of State said in his introductory remarks, it can take the matter to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, but it will not succeed. The commission has to prove not only that the releasing to it of such information would not damage national security, but that the refusal to release that information was irrational and that no reasonable intelligence agency would behave in that way. That is what proposed new section 69B(2)(d) really means, because that is the standard that applies to judicial reviews.

This is all the more worrying at a time when the Government want substantially to expand MI5’s role in Northern Ireland. At the moment, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has primacy in respect of national security, and the police ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints about its handling of these matters. Such accountability has helped enormously in building confidence in the new PSNI and the new beginning to policing. Time and again, the police ombudsman’s office has investigated complaints that have gone to the heart of national security, such as those involving the Omagh case, which is currently at trial, and “Stormontgate”. We have yet to hear anybody, including the Government, complain about the ombudsman’s involvement. Nobody has come out publicly even to attempt to argue that this is a bad thing, so why introduce a measure preventing the commission from pursuing those lines of inquiry?

The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) mentioned Osama bin Laden, and in that regard there
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is a peculiar anomaly, which I have mentioned before. A terrorist who is aware that the intelligence service is monitoring him has the right to make a complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. However, a person who is unaware that they are being monitored, and who is perhaps suffering an injustice through that process, has no rights whatsoever. That point emerged strongly during the Omagh trial, which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle mentioned. It took seven and a half years for that to be exposed, which is not acceptable.

The Bill raises many issues that could be politically damaging to the process that is taking place, without embracing fully the need for a full human rights scenario in Northern Ireland. I think that all hon. Members will agree that we were able to build a police service that has inspired cross-community confidence. We need to do the same for the investigatory powers of the commission, especially in terms of MI5, because what is possible now will not be possible after the passing of this legislation.

The Bill contains many good provisions, which we will support, but I ask the Government to consider the remarks made by my hon. Friends and other hon. Members today and the proceedings in Committee, and to take on board some of the practical problems, the solution of which could enhance the ability of the community to move forward from the dark days of the past three decades.

4.25 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I wish to make it clear, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has done already, that the Bill is unnecessary and could be dangerous to the pursuit of security in Northern Ireland. The situation does not warrant such changes. As the Secretary of State suggested in his speech, the Bill is part of the political process towards normalisation, and many of us believe that that has been driven more by the demands of Sinn Fein than by the situation on the ground.

Reference has already been made to some of reports by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in which it is recognised that the policing situation in Northern Ireland is not yet normal. Indeed, some witnesses were not even prepared to be named when they appeared before a Committee of this House, which does not suggest that people would be happy with a jury system. We must bear in mind the fear of the influence of the paramilitaries that still exists.

Some academic studies have been done on the issue, such as “The Jury System in Contemporary Ireland: In the Shadow of a Troubled Past”, in which the authors discuss the need to move away from the Diplock court system. However, they concluded:

For that reason alone, it is essential that a discretionary power be maintained—although we think that it is too weak—so that all cases do not have to be heard before a jury.

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