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Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Bill before us is an odd one. It is something of a dog's breakfast in that it contains all sorts of bits and scraps, some not particularly substantive. Yes, there are important provisions and some welcome ones, but as we will show, the most significant feature of the Bill is what is not in it, rather than what is.
It is interesting that, introducing the debate, the Secretary of State took a lot of time to deal with the subject of MI5 and there were many interventions on
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the future of intelligence policing, when there is nothing in the Bill that deals directly with that matter. If the Bill made direct provision for the enhanced and expanded role that appears to be envisaged for MI5, that would be good cause to vote against it, even on Second Reading; however, it does not.
That does not reassure those of us who are concerned about plans for the future of intelligence policinga point that will be developed by my hon. Friends when they speak. We cannot accept the Secretary of State's assurance in relation to MI5 that what has happened in the past will not happen in the future. What basis do we have for accepting such an assurance from a Government who are in denial about what has happened in the past and who, through measures such as the Inquiries Act 2005, have acted precisely and deliberately to make sure that the truth cannot emerge about things that happened in the past, courtesy of MI5.
In their interventions, hon. Members referred to various paramilitary organisations and terrorist groups. All the terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland have comported themselves as paramilitary organisations, but the sad and shameful reality is that military interests in Northern Irelandnamely, MI5have in the past comported themselves as para-terrorists in their handling of and engagement, involvement, collusion and complicity in all sorts of crimes committed by terrorists. They did not share intelligence that could have been used to apprehend people, to alert people, or to save lives. Such was the nature of its operations that MI5 literally, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said, conspired to allow people to get away with murder. When the Government seem content to cover up those aspects of the past, I find it hard to accept their assurances about the future.
The suggestion made was that MI5with its record in Northern Irelandis to be some new feature. Listening to the Secretary of State talk about trying to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, one might think that Northern Ireland had never had MI5 and its intelligence operatives before. Well, we have, and we have had far too many of them. Trusting the future of intelligence policing to MI5 is like making Herod the children's commissionerit goes against the whole record of experience and legitimate interest.
MI5 has not shown respect for the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland, it has not respected life and it has not respected the duties and responsibilities of other law enforcement agencies, and I have seen nothing to tell me that that will change in future. That is why we have fundamental concerns about the plans for the future of intelligence policing. It is all very well the Secretary of State saying that the police service will have operational responsibility when the Security Service advises the police of something: the big question is what about the circumstances in which the Security Service does not advise the police of something, or deliberately misadvises them? All that has happened in the past, and there is nothing to assure us that it will not happen in the future.
In addition, as the Secretary of State has indicated, intelligence policing in the hands of MI5 will not be subject to any of the scrutiny, challenge or
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accountability available in relation to the police service in the form of appeals to the Policing Board or the ombudsman's office and, in the context of devolution, challenge in the Assembly. Legitimate national security issues will still have to be addressed but, as I said in an intervention, the Patten report clearly recommended that the Chief Constable report to the Secretary of State on such matters, rather than to devolved bodies and the Policing Board. That is the way forwardstick to the Patten path.
Mr. Hain: It is not clear whether the hon. Gentleman accepts my basic point that the Security Service needs to be able to co-ordinate its activities in every part of the United Kingdom mainly to fight the modern problem of international terrorism. Surely, the hon. Gentleman is not disputing that.
Mark Durkan: I have already said that we should stick to what Patten recommended, and Patten clearly envisaged the need for continued intelligence policing. The report also made clear both the changes that had to be made to the police service to accommodate that capacity and the issues on which the Chief Constable would report to the Secretary of State. There would be some issues of national security on which it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State, rather than the devolved authorities, to receive reports. I therefore do not accept the case that the Secretary of State made for an enhanced and expanded role for MI5 in future.
Mr. Hain: Perhaps I am trying the hon. Gentleman's patience, but we all do so to one another in the House. It is a question of yes or no. Does he think that the Security Service should have primacy when fighting terrorism and doing its work? He spoke about the role of the Chief Constable and so on, but we have made that role clear. I am not certain whether he agrees or disagrees that the Security Service should be able to operate in such a way that it can combat the problems of terrorism, particularly international terrorism, and protect the national interest? Does he agree with that or not, particularly the point about national security?
Mark Durkan: I should have thought that a comparison with Herod as children's commissioner indicated that I do not accept that the Security Service should be trusted with a role of such primacy, particularly given its record. It is not as if we have a figmentary concern about the future conduct and performance of MI5 and the quality of its relationship with the police service, as history shows the true and ugly face of such matters.
The Bill makes a number of provisions in several different areas, and my hon. Friends will deal with political donations, electoral registration and the creation of a single energy market throughout the island of Ireland. Those are important provisions, but there are other things that the Government could have included in the legislation but which they have chosen not to include. As long ago as 2000, the British Government agreed to review whether the Human Rights Commission should be given powers to call for persons and papers, and to enter and inspect the premises of public authorities. Without those powers, the record shows that its investigations can be hampered and
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impeded, as happened when it was denied entry to a prison that it wanted to inspect. Such powers are essential if the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is to comply with the UN Paris principles. Powers to call for persons and papers are possessed by human rights commissions throughout the world, including the one in the Republic of Ireland.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a consultation on those very points was completed at the end of February. We are currently considering our response.
Mark Durkan: Given that the commitments were made as far back as 2000, that the response to the consultation is now available and that the Government have indicated that there are other amendments that they might be prepared to include in the Bill, they should indicate their willingness to use the Bill to make that provision. Rather than waiting until next year to legislateas they may or may not plan to dowhy not do so now? Fairly simple and straightforward amendments could be tabled to deal with the matter.
Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman referred to the Paris principles. Those principles set out the characteristics and powers of a national human rights commission. Does he accept that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a regional human rights commission, not a national one across the United Kingdom, and so should have lesser powers and different characteristics from those outlined in the Paris principles?
Mark Durkan: I do not accept that the commission should have lesser powers than those outlined in the Paris principles when it comes to carrying out its remit in respect of human rights in Northern Ireland. That remit should be significant and many people believed and assumed that it was as significant as what is covered in the Paris principles. That is what has to be rectified and remedied. We should remember that we are talking about a product of the Good Friday agreement. The human rights commission in the Republic is also a product of the Good Friday agreement. It is odd that one commission has those powers and the other does not, if we are talking about things being like for like and parity of approach.
In response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), the Secretary of State entertained the possibility of a number of amendments being introduced to deal with what might be termed constitutional or institutional matters. I warn the Government that it would be a political misadventure to try to use the Bill as a vehicle for translating into legislation chunks of the so-called comprehensive agreement of December 2004, which was not an agreement and was not comprehensive. It emerged as a result of negotiations between the two Governments, the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein. It came on the back of the two Governments aborting the review of the workings of the Good Friday agreement that was under way in 2004 and it contains a number of provisions that violate key principles of the Good Friday agreement.
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I warn the Government against using the Bill to legislate for the comprehensive agreement. I know that they will be tempted to do so, because Sinn Fein very foolishly agreed all sorts of things that it apparently now disagrees with. In the comprehensive agreement, it agreed that legislation would be introduced in the House to create a shadow Assembly. Now Sinn Fein says that it is totally against a shadow Assembly. It also agreed that coming out of the shadow Assembly would depend on the reports of the Independent Monitoring Commission. It now says that it would not have the Independent Monitoring Commission about the place and that the commission should have no part in determining our political future. However, I hope that, although the temptation might be there in relation to Sinn Fein's mistakes in the comprehensive agreement, the Government will not try to lift chunks of the comprehensive agreement and legislate for that in the Bill.
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