BUSINESS QUESTION – NI (OFFENCES) BILL – 10 November 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: When the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill is debated next week, may we have coupled with it a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirming that there can be no question of Service personnel who undertook authorised operations during the Troubles finding themselves in court on charges involving those operations? Does he agree that otherwise it would be difficult for us to look the veterans of that long conflict in the eye on Remembrance Sunday or at any other time?

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Geoffrey Hoon): The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that difficult issue concerning members of the Armed Forces and the Security Services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will open the debate on the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. This is not an easy issue for anyone, and no one pretends that it is. The benefit that we get from moving forward with the peace process is clear. This is about reducing the level of terrorism in Northern Ireland – [Interruption].  

Opposition Members who are commenting from a sedentary position should ask themselves whether they believe that it is better to see continuing terrorism in Northern Ireland or – [Interruption]. They are scoffing, but this legislation is necessary as it is part of the Good Friday Agreement and the arrangements that were made with a terrorist organisation that for many years has been on ceasefire. We cannot have the salami-slicing logic that says that we can somehow make progress on peace and reduce tension and violence in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom without taking the difficult decisions that are necessary. This is part of a package. If we want a continuing improvement in the peace process in that difficult part of the country, we must inevitably take these difficult decisions.]