New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: May I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition on their opening statements today, which, I have to say, were two of the most statesmanlike contributions I have heard on any subject in more than 13 years in this House?

On the question of possible prosecutions, may I draw to the House's attention one fact? There was a sniper on the IRA side who killed something like two dozen British soldiers, but who was arrested only a relatively short time before the Good Friday agreement was concluded. As a result of that man's conviction, he received a very long sentence, but served only a very short sentence. Should it not be borne in mind that that man, after all he did, is now out on the streets, a free man, before anybody starts calling for prosecutions of people, even though they did very wrong things a very long time ago?

[The Prime Minister: May I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the statements by me and the Leader of the Opposition? I know that he cares deeply about this issue, too. What I would say to him about the very strong point that he makes is that the Good Friday agreement included clauses that were incredibly painful for people on all sides to cope with. The idea that someone who had murdered-and, as my hon. Friend said, murdered perhaps more than once-would serve only two years in prison was incredibly painful for people to understand, but these things had to be done to try to end the long-running conflict and to bring people to pursue their goals by peaceful means. That is what the peace process is about.

In terms of making a contrast between that and what soldiers have done, I am very clear that we should not try to draw an equivalence between what terrorists have done and what soldiers have done, because soldiers are operating under the law-operating for a Government. We should not draw equivalence. On the issue of prosecutions, I can only repeat what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, and I also make the point that it is important that I do not say anything today that would prejudice either a criminal prosecution or, indeed, a civil action, were one to be brought.

Let me end, again, on the point about the painful decisions that had to be made in the peace process. We all, particularly on the Conservative side of the House, know people who have been affected. The first person I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow, who was murdered by the IRA. It is incredibly painful and difficult for people to put behind them what happened in the past, but we have to if we are to make the peace process work.]