Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2001

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Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I apologise for taking up time. I was going to intervene on the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Ipik), but I would rather put my point to the Minister.

I felt that the hon. Member for Reigate played a strong Orange card at the beginning of his speech. He went on to say that the specification was so pointless that it was not worth making at all. It seemed to me that he was making two speeches, from which something could be picked to placate every section of the electorate in Northern Ireland which parties want to play to. I hope that the Minister will resist strongly any attempt to play an Orange card or to suggest—as was suggested—that the IRA should be specified in the order. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire rightly said, the process is an inclusive one from which people can self-exclude. We will do everything that we can to maintain that inclusion. People must go to some length to find themselves excluded and to be specified in the order.

Mr. Blunt rose—

The Chairman: Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) has resumed his seat, not given way.

5.24 pm

Jane Kennedy: I will resist the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East that I should dismiss the comments of the hon. Member for Reigate as an Orange statement. Whether he was making a point from the Orange side or from any other side, I hope to refute his comments, but I shall do so using measured language. It is important for everybody engaged in debate in Northern Ireland to use measured language.

The hon. Gentleman makes the case that the effect of specification is ``meaningless'' and asks why no re-arrests have been made so far. It is important to remember that the Government, the security forces and the police must operate within the framework of the law. There is no intention to round up released prisoners as a result of specification. Each and every case must be carefully considered on its merits. Many of the individuals whom he described as early-release prisoners and of whom he asked why we had not rounded them up and put them back in jail have mended their ways. They have dissociated themselves from the current acts of the UDA, UFF and LVF.

Mr. Blunt: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jane Kennedy: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me finish the point. When there is evidence that individuals continue to support an organisation, those individuals will be returned to serve any remaining element of their sentence.

Mr. Blunt: I believe that the Minister is confirming the point that there is no difference between re-arresting prisoners on licence and arresting people in the first place who are then subject to section 108 of the Terrorism Act, which applies to specified organisations. That is the important point, and I hope that the Minister will confirm it.

Jane Kennedy: I will disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who really ought to contain himself. That is not what I am saying. He asked me whether any of the remaining prisoners were due to be released under the early release scheme. That is true of some prisoners, and the Secretary of State is carefully considering them to judge who has the potential to apply to the sentence review commissioners. However, each case will be considered on its merits.

To come to the hon. Gentleman's specific comment that there is no difference, the Terrorism Act provisions are about the offence of membership. Under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act—the other relevant Act—recall does not require conviction; the Secretary of State can act if he believes that a person who has been released on licence is a supporter of a specified organisation. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Provisional IRA was proscribed—of course it is. It is not specified, however, because it is on ceasefire. He asked whether the forfeiture of assets applies. Again, all proscribed organisations, whether or not specified, are liable to have their assets seized.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the deteriorating security situation and described the experiences of Securicor. However, he did not describe to the Committee the success of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which includes 16 arrests of those involved in armed robbery on Securicor and banks. Those gains are important and positive, and the RUC and its robbery squad deserve to be commended for their work. Individuals who are involved in such acts are being combated, and the police are engaging them and having success.

I invite the hon. Gentleman to think carefully before he uses apocalyptic language about the security situation in north Belfast and elsewhere. The situation is serious and has preoccupied me and my security advisers throughout the summer. However, in considering paramilitary organisations and their ceasefires, it is important to distinguish between organisations as a whole and individuals or rogue elements in them.

To consider whether the act of specification is worth while, members of the Committee should listen to the words of Alan McQuillan, assistant Chief Constable, about the unrest in north Belfast this weekend. On 29 October, he said that

    ``at the heart of all of this, orchestrating it, controlling it, supplying the pipe bombs, supplying things like the petrol bombs as well''

is the UDA. We cannot dismiss the opinion of a senior police officer such as Alan McQuillan lightly. Advice was provided to us that, taking all factors into account, the activities of the UVA, UFF and LVF were distinct from those of any other organisation, so the Secretary of State was justified in specifying them. I hope that the Committee will support the action.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001, No. 3411).

        Committee rose at twenty-eight minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hancock, Mr. Mike (Chairman)
Blunt, Mr.
Brown, Mr. Russell
Cairns, David
Connarty, Mr.
Galloway, Mr.
Hayes, Mr.
Hoban, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Kennedy, Jane
McIsaac, Shona
Ipik, Lembit
Plaskitt, Mr.
Russell, Christine
Selous, Andrew
Stringer, Mr.

 
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Prepared 30 October 2001