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13 Dec 2006 : Column 946

Before concluding, I want to draw attention to clause 45, which I welcome. It requires private security firms to be licensed in future, and makes it an offence to provide security services without a licence. That has been included to prevent paramilitary control of security services, and we warmly welcome the measure, because clearly there have been attempts by some paramilitary groups to extort money through the use of bogus security companies.

Another area in which the Independent Monitoring Commission has warned of paramilitary control is the field of community restorative justice, which was mentioned earlier by the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). The SDLP supports community restorative justice in principle, but we believe that there must be a proper system of regulation. One of the safeguards for which we have argued is a requirement on the groups concerned to be licensed and properly regulated, like security firms. Time and again the Government have told us that it would not be possible to put such regulations in place, yet the Bill sets a precedent for security firms in that regard. We would warmly welcome the extension of that precedent to CRJ groups, and the Bill is proof that that would not be impossible.

Let us use that positive precedent to get restorative justice right, and to ensure high standards in that very important work. After all, if licensing is necessary for bouncers and security companies, surely it is important for groups working at the heart of the criminal justice system. I hope that the Government, Ministers and others will reflect on that. For our part, we shall work on the proposals, and will make suggestions in Committee.

5.1 pm

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I shall be brief. I have listened carefully to the other contributions, including those of the Secretary of State and the spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), as well as other Members of all parties. Some of them reacted in a measured fashion, but others have over-egged their opposition to certain measures in the legislation. [Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) will contain himself, he will find out exactly which hon. Members I am speaking about; the Secretary of State is one of them. I ask him to contain himself a little longer.

Any independent observer, carefully scrutinising the facts about the security situation in Northern Ireland, would acknowledge that there is a justification for retaining resolute powers to protect the law-abiding citizens of the United Kingdom, and especially the people of Northern Ireland. I emphasise that my concern is not for the criminal, but for the law-abiding people of the Province, and those who have endured so many years of intimidation, threats and constant attacks.

In my humble opinion, there is a continuing need for extraordinary procedures. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) rightly said that the Bill goes too far, too soon, and the
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Minister should consider that remark carefully. We need to protect the people of Northern Ireland from the continued threat of terrorism and continued intimidation. We agree that we should progressively move towards holding jury trials, but jury trials are not appropriate in all cases. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim, I pay tribute to the judges and magistrates in Northern Ireland. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those in our court system, because they provide a signal service to the community under difficult circumstances, and many of them are under constant threat from terrorists from across the community. It ought to be put clearly on the record how much we owe them for carrying out a normal duty under abnormal circumstances. I said that some Members had over-egged their objections to certain parts of the legislation. It is not the first time that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for example, has done so, and it will not be last.

Rev. Ian Paisley: It was a case of scrambled eggs.

Dr. McCrea: Indeed. We must look at some of the issues that the hon. Member for Foyle brought to our attention, because many of his remarks focused on the magical devolution of policing and justice. He was concerned about the fact that the Minister had the power to do this, that or the other after devolution, and about the impact of measures in the Bill. I intervened on him, and may I remind him, honestly and honourably, that a devolved Ministry for policing and justice is not on the radar, so any date for such a thing is not a reality? Rather than become excited about the issue, he can rest for a considerable period, because all is well, and those responsibilities will remain with the mainland United Kingdom. That should give him great comfort.

The hon. Gentleman objected, too, to the powers given to the British Army to search people. I do not know what kind of world he lives in, because he should know very well that it has had search powers for years. Why should not Her Majesty’s forces exercise responsibility and protect the people of Northern Ireland, if they have been brought in to do so? They have exercised those responsibilities carefully, even though they have been subject to great provocation for many years. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Her Majesty’s forces who have come to the Province and put themselves in harm’s way to ensure that we have as normal a society as possible under the trying circumstances created by the constant threat from the Provisional IRA and other terrorist groups.

The Army has been brought in to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland. There was a great furore about Army personnel going out on patrol without the police. If they stopped someone on the road, they could not search them until a policeman arrived. That was quite ridiculous, given the terrorist threat and the abnormal situation, We must acknowledge that we are not yet in a normal situation in the Province. We long for that day—we hope that it will come soon—but there is a constant terrorist threat against the people of Northern Ireland. Terrorism must be put down or crushed in Northern Ireland, because the terrorists
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have not gone away. Many people want to close their eyes to that fact. I would love to live in an area where liberty and freedom from terrorism are a reality, but I can assure the hon. Member for Foyle that it is very different in the area where I live and in the west of the Province.

Mark Durkan: If we set aside our obvious differences about the way in which those powers for the Army were exercised in the past, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government made a commitment to repeal those powers? It is a fact that previous legislation purported to repeal those powers, and that the Bill effectively restores and recycles some of them? Perhaps it was the hon. Gentleman’s party that persuaded the Government to do that, but it is a reversal of their position.

Dr. McCrea: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is normal that in a society where there is the threat of terrorism, Her Majesty’s forces—the Army and the police—work together in the defence and protection of the community. I do not mind whether it is members of the PSNI or Army personnel who are protecting me and my constituents from the threat of terrorism or from those who are intimidating them. I will not say, “Oh, sorry, I don’t like your face, or your cap, or I don’t like the badge on it.” That is nit-picking. That is why I say that the hon. Gentleman’s objection to the provision is over-egged. He should be more concerned about the reality of the situation.

To respond directly to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will not answer for what the Government promised him in the past or promised anyone else. I can assure him that promises were made to us too. My paramount consideration is that the measure is in the interest of law-abiding citizens and their safety and protection.

Mark Durkan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has just said that if the police and the Army are in an exercise, it is nit-picking to make a distinction between who is wearing what cap or what badge, and they should be treated the same. Should not the police ombudsman therefore have the right to investigate either in relation to their conduct in those situations?

Dr. McCrea: Once again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My direct answer is absolutely not. I do not believe the police ombudsman has any right whatsoever to investigate the Army.

Maybe there is one thing that will cheer the hon. Gentleman. What we are learning this afternoon is that the Government break promises to everybody—he is not alone. One can do that for only so long, then one is caught. I will not offer any justification for any promise that was made to the SDLP or to any other party in the House or outside that undermines the security of the people of Northern Ireland and of the constituents whom I represent. The hon. Gentleman should not be over-exercised about the powers of search given to Her Majesty’s forces in the British Army.

The second matter about which the hon. Gentleman has been over-exercised—he has been a little up-tight
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this afternoon, or perhaps more than a little—is the expanding role of MI5. Is he really suggesting that the sky will fall in if an expanded role is given to MI5 in Northern Ireland?

Sammy Wilson: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a certain irony that MI5 has taken over security gathering in Northern Ireland, because the SDLP, along with Sinn Fein, were the very people who complained about special branch and who said they could not trust special branch and that it was a force within a force? Now they have finished up with a force outside a force.

Dr. McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for an excellent intervention. Chickens are coming home to roost. Perhaps the SDLP is beginning to realise what it has brought on its own head. In the interests of fairness and of law and order in Northern Ireland, the expanded role being given to MI5 should not cause any excitement. What the hon. Gentleman said under the Belfast agreement was that we are—and everybody has accepted this—a part of the United Kingdom. He should therefore welcome MI5’s participation, as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mark Durkan: Let me make it clear that the SDLP and Sinn Fein have very different views on intelligence policing. We read the Patten report, which clearly said that there needed to be intelligence policing within the PSNI and within the accountability structures. I agree that Sinn Fein made a mistake in opposing that, because it helped to enable people to create the MI5 agenda.

As for my question about the sky falling in, I was querying whether people are really saying that the sky would fall in if the ombudsman retained her powers to investigate national security-related intelligence policing. She has those powers now, and the sky has not fallen in with their exercise.

Dr. McCrea: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the sky will not fall in whenever legislation passes that gives MI5 that responsibility, so we can be happy in the knowledge that our heads will be safe. As far as Sinn Fein-IRA is concerned, certain Members might have a closer relationship with MI5 than the hon. Member for Foyle. I hope that my remarks have assured him that all will be well.

The second aspect of the over-egging of the Bill is down to the Government and the Secretary of State. The notes that were passed out from the Secretary of State’s office to his parliamentary colleagues are very helpful, as usual. One his key messages was:

It is true that we do not have the bombs going off daily, but there are still major problems. The last IMC report—the 12th report, which came out in October 2006—acknowledges that there are major threats against the people of Northern Ireland.

There is genuine concern in the Unionist community that the Government are moving very fast on so-called normalisation without the assurance that people are being protected. I will give an example. We have constantly seen the removal of Army look-out posts
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along the border, especially in south Armagh, yet the Government know full well that there is an active so-called dissident IRA grouping in that area. The threat from those people has not gone away, but the protection from them has. The Government boast about transformation and the removal of the Army from the streets. What about the Unionist population? What about the people who are feeling vulnerable along the border and living in fear because they believe that the Government are trying to appease Sinn Fein and the IRA movement and have moved this process along without considering their safety?

We are told that the IRA has ended its armed campaign and decommissioned its weapons. We all know that that is not a faithful interpretation of reality. We know that major decommissioning took place, because thankfully my party pressed the Government to press the IRA to move on the issue, but it is wrong to give the impression that it decommissioned all its weapons. The IRA has not ended its armed campaign. We have to test whether this is a genuine transformation with repentance for what it has done or a con trick to see how many more concessions it can get out of the Government. No matter what words are spoken by the IRA, they will not bluff the Democratic Unionist party. There must be delivery, and it will have to be done in the appropriate time to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have confidence that a true transformation is taking place.

In The Irish Times today, I noticed the caption, “Man charged with IRA membership”. I thought that the IRA was supposed to have gone away and that everything was grand. However, the paper states:

When was that? Was it months ago? No, it was yesterday. On the same page, I saw the caption, “IRA charge verdict on Friday”. It states:

In one paper today, therefore, two cases are reported of people charged with IRA membership.

When was the last time that our British Government charged people in Northern Ireland with IRA membership? The Irish Republic is charging people, but our Government seem to be not only closing their own eyes but pulling the wool over the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland. The article in The Irish Times today proves that the IRA still exists as an organisation and still has membership. The southern authorities are charging people with IRA membership. One of the people whose case is reported today is remanded and will not know whether he will get out until tomorrow. The Government are over-egging it.

Mark Durkan: May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that if someone is a member of a dissident republican group—Continuity IRA or Real IRA—the charge that they will face is membership of IRA or Oglaigh Na hEireann?

Dr. McCrea: The paper does not say that. It refers to IRA membership. It will therefore be interesting to see whether that is the case, or whether we will find out that, like the British Government in Northern Ireland,
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the south is pulling the wool over people’s eyes. We know that the organisation is still in existence, and it must be dismantled for there to be credibility.

That brings me to the issue of the Government making it abundantly clear that Sinn Fein must give unequivocal support, not by words but by deeds, to the security forces. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Foyle has restated—and has done so forcefully in this debate—that there must be no equivocation about support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. As many Members have acknowledged, that must be a reality and based on evidence, because they know the evidence on many of the outstanding cases.

Organised crime is still a reality in Northern Ireland. I am absolutely disgusted by the attacks on elderly people in the Province. In the past 48 hours, five of my elderly constituents have been attacked and robbed, in Crumlin, Glenavy, Ballinderry and Glengormley. The privacy and sanctity of their homes has been invaded by thugs. The people of Northern Ireland would be cheered up by the introduction of mandatory sentences for those who violate the safety of a person’s home. I do not care whether a thug takes 10p or £1,000 off a person, because he has changed that person’s life for good. There must be mandatory sentences, and the courts need to ensure that they are handed out instead of giving a slap on the wrist to people who destroy so much.

A woman was sitting watching the television with her husband. The thugs removed a window, walked into their home, tied them up in the corner, threatened them and took all the jewellery, some of which had been handed down through generations. That lady is now a zombie. She does not know her husband any more, and yet she was one of the most beautiful ladies in our community who, in fact, was a business lady. It is a tragedy.

People should go and see what these thugs are doing in our community. Many of the thugs have nothing to offer society, and because they cannot get their money from other activities, they destroy the lives of our elderly people. Extortion, money laundering, fuel laundering and intimidation are still going on. We need an honest assessment of what is happening in our society, and we must ensure that our emphasis is on the law abiding, not on the criminal.

5.26 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in the debate and to bring it back to the subject of the Bill.

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