HC Deb 14 February 2002 vol 380 cc139-76WH

[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Session 2000–01 HC 59 and the Government's response thereto HC 461]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Woolas.]

2.30 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)

First, I thank the Liaison Committee for allowing the debate. It is important that the subject is aired, and if we cannot air it on the Floor of the House, it is as well to do so here. Secondly, my hon. Friends know, but not everyone will know, that the report was prepared before the last general election, and therefore not under my chairmanship but under that of my noble Friend Lord Brooke. I pay tribute to him on behalf of my colleagues for the sensitive and light touch with which he handled the Select Committee for five years—I am not allowed to notice him in the Public Gallery today. I am trying hard to follow his difficult act.

The report inevitably touched on devolved matters. One problem with the new devolved institution in Northern Ireland is the involvement of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in providing support for victims who have been removed from their homes. I am happy that the executive supported the Committee's inquiry, and provided a response, for which we are grateful. During this Session, that was printed with the Government's response in the fourth special report.

The inquiry was launched in 2000; evidence was taken then, and at the beginning of 2001. Disappointingly, the Government did not respond to our report until the beginning of December, eight months after the report was published, and well beyond the deadlines that Government set themselves. That disappointing delay can be explained partly by the intervention of the election and the summer recess, but eight months cannot be entirely explained away.

Most people think that, with the ceasefire and the ending of violence in Northern Ireland, many problems have gone away. They may think that punishment beatings, expulsions and evictions by intimidation have disappeared. That is far from the case, and some statistics show that the opposite has happened. The Base 2 project run by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which works for the reintegration of individuals into the community, shows that the number of referrals to NIACRO has increased steadily year on year. In 2000, 346 people had to be moved out of their houses into other ones—that is almost one each day. The problems have not gone away.

That figure reflects only the cases that are reported. People who steal away after they have been ejected, or who move because they are frightened to stay after being threatened and intimidated, but do not report that they have done so, do not appear in the figures. It is therefore probable that the figure is higher. Many people may think that young men who have been involved at the fringes of paramilitary activity are mainly affected by such threats and intimidation, but that is not the case. It affects men and women of every age, and often children too. The article that recently appeared in The Times under the headline "Get out or be killed" paints a sad picture of the effect that intimidation has had on one family.

Intimidation is not something that occurs on one side of the community or the other. It happens between Protestants and Catholics, and Unionists and nationalists—one can use whatever phrase one likes. It happens in the Protestant-Unionist community and in the Catholic-nationalist community; people intimidate their own people. It is so widespread that one cannot define it as sectarian intimidation. A culture of no respect for the normal course of law and order grew up during the troubles and after the ceasefire. The Minister will agree that that is the first thing that needs to be addressed.

Sometimes intimidation just takes the form of a threat; sometimes it takes the form of real violence, and we all know of recorded cases of violence. Sometimes it is against individuals; sometimes it is against whole neighbourhoods, of which the recent sectarian trouble in north Belfast is a good example. More than 1,000 people have had to leave their homes because they are frightened to stay there or they have been intimidated out of staying there.

The question that we must ask, and which the report addresses, is what we can do about it. I am sure that the Minister has heard more than enough pleas for more money, more housing, better social conditions and this, that and the other. We all echo those pleas and hope that they will be answered as and when they can be. I understand the constraints under which the Minister operates.

I should make it doubly clear that I am speaking for myself; I did not take part in writing the report. Somebody, somewhere has got to make the paramilitaries understand that they cannot go on behaving in that lawless fashion. It is easy to criticise the police and say that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should do better and should not tolerate lawlessness. We know, however, that in many parts of Northern Ireland the police writ does not run.

The problem is more fundamental than that, but there is a way round it that the Government should be trying, and I am sad that there is little sign that they are. All sorts of concessions or all sorts of—if one does not like the word "concessions"—moves have been made since the Good Friday agreement. The agreement was painfully negotiated, and things happened such as the release of prisoners, in the interests of preserving the fragile peace to implement all aspects of the agreement and make Northern Ireland a normal society once again.

It appears to most that the people who have not moved and changed their ways are those who are carrying out the intimidation, the beatings, the punishments and the expulsions. They have not needed to change because they have been getting almost everything that they want. The Government has been slower to tackle that problem than many of us would have wished. It would have been easy to negotiate some sort of return of released prisoners, and not made their release completely unconditional. Indeed, in Northern Ireland before the referendum, the Prime Minister gave an undertaking to the people of Northern Ireland that there would be parallel progress in the return to normality. Nobody could say that progress in the return to normality has been parallel.

Now it is late, but not too late, for the Government to insist that before any more concessions are made, the problem of people who have been evicted be properly addressed. It should be made perfectly clear not only to the paramilitaries but to the political parties associated with them that that behaviour can no longer be tolerated in a society in which they want to be part of the normal political process. That is the deal that should be done.

A lot of offence was taken when Sinn Fein Members were allowed to come into this place. I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who asked the Prime Minister a question about them yesterday. He said that he wished that they were here so that they could take part in the debate and be—[Interruption.] Are they here?

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

They may be listening.

Mr. Mates

They may be listening, but they are not here. If they were, they could stand up and justify the activity that is going on in the communities that they have been elected to serve. Surely those elected to serve in democratic forums owe it to those forums to ensure that what goes on in their communities, in so far as they can help it, is democratic and peaceful. They are making no attempt to do that, because it is not in their interests, and it has not been made in their interests, to do so.

Others will have different views to express, but I hope that what the Government takes away from the debate is that now, no further concessions should be made without getting something in return. The most important thing to get in return is recognition that it is unacceptable for people to be intimidated out of their homes, exiled or beaten up. Would it not be the ultimate irony—I said this to the Prime Minister yesterday, and got a very constructive response—for the Government to introduce a Bill giving amnesty to convicted criminals who have escaped from prison and to those wanted for the most serious terrorist crimes when there were no corresponding amnesty, so to speak—this is not really the right context in which to use that word—for those who have been expelled from their homes and cannot live in the communities in which they were born and brought up?

Jane Kennedy

I am listening with great care to what the hon. Gentleman says, and I have read the report in detail. Does he accept, as the report identifies, that the causes of the displacement of people that we are discussing are many and complex? Doing a deal, as he and others are urging the Government to, is not the simple, straightforward step that he portrays. There are paramilitary organisations participating in such unacceptable violence that are not party to, and would not count themselves party to, any such deal. They cannot be let off the hook.

Mr. Mates

Far be it from me ever to have suggested that anything in Northern Ireland is simple. I once did the Minister's job, so I do not think that she needs to accuse me of that. I know how complex such matters are, but I am asking why we have not said at some stage along the road, "Hang on, we're doing all of this, so why are you not responding?"

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was waiting for an appropriate moment, and I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman's flow. I put on record my slight regret that I arrived late because there are two simultaneous debates on Northern Ireland going on. Is there any way, through the channels that you have available, Madam Deputy Speaker, for you to ensure that such double booking can be avoided in future? Several hon. Members who would like to be participating in this debate are detained in the Standing Committee that is considering the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. However, I think that the business managers of this House will take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Mates

I was about to give way to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth).

Rev. Martin Smyth

On the point that the hon. Member has been trying to explain, and to which the Minister responded, the key point can be made in the words of Monsignor Denis Faul, who cannot be described as a partisan politician, although he may have different political views from me. He asked the Government to make no more concessions until those who are in a position to deal with the issues start doing so. The hon. Gentleman referred to the article in The Times, which also describes a lack of confidence. A Member of Parliament gave permission for an exile to return on the understanding that nothing would happen, but that person ended up dead. We cannot hide behind those who are not in a position to do something, when those who are in such a position do nothing.

Mr. Mates

I have nearly reached the end of what I wanted to say. I understand that the situation is complicated. There are no political fronts for some paramilitaries. If we were to tackle the main sources of the problem in Sinn Fein-IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Democratic party, that would be a start because the other groups are something of a minority. We must not justify inaction by saying that the problem is too difficult. It is intolerable that people take part in the democratic process who do nothing to prevent undemocratic behaviour.

Although I am sure that all Governments will do their best to improve the social and living conditions of the people, which are part of the problem, a robust attitude and a greater acceptance of the police are needed. It is a shame that the Sinn Fein MPs are not here to explain to us why they cannot support a police service that has been remodelled largely because of their demands. Communities must not look the other way as intimidation happens because it will not stop if they do. All of us who care about the problems must see that they are taken care of, and that such intolerable behaviour does not continue.

2.47 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

For a moment, I would like to follow the theme touched on by the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)—the complexity of the problem. Those of us who live in the communities where such horrific events happen are sometimes puzzled ourselves as to their root cause. There is a heavy preponderance of headline intimidation from the paramilitaries, which often involves beatings, mutilations and shootings. That situation comes about for complex reasons. Sometimes, the reasons are paramilitary or political, sometimes they are drug-orientated or concerned with territorial control; they relate to protection rackets and the other sources of the paramilitaries' illegal income.

That people are visited with the injustice of exile, if you like, without any time to prepare themselves, their families or their children for the journey is one of the most unacceptable aspects of the remnants of 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. Another element of intimidation is an intercommunity problem, which is more difficult to handle. It has been endemic since the events on Bombay street and Hooker street in 1969. That was the first great exodus, which was caused by the state, I hasten to add. In two weeks, we saw the greatest movement of people in western Europe since the second world war. Many came to my town, where they were fed and housed in halls and huts throughout the constituency. Historically, such unacceptable examples of intimidation have taken place.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McGrady

I will in a moment. Intimidation is now seen as a weapon because more obvious violence such as bombings and shoot-outs are no longer acceptable. However, the communities themselves often engage in counter-intimidation. Sometimes it is deliberate; sometimes it is spontaneous. That issue will be the most difficult for our society to address.

Underneath that, there is another layer of intimidation and expulsion. Individual action is taken by persons who are not attached to any paramilitary organisation or who perform the action at the behest of an organisation or on its behalf. Often, acts of sheer personal vindictiveness occur in certain streets on certain estates. That wide spectrum of actions and attitudes forms part of the statistics, so the situation is extremely complex. Ultimately, there will be only one way to handle it.

I remember saying in the first debate that took place in the House after the ceasefire that, although we hoped for it, we could not expect an immediate return to normality after 30 years of crass abnormality, brutality and lack of esteem for the sanctity of life, never mind the ordinary laws by which we should abide. I said that it would take time for that to happen. It is taking longer than some of us would like but, in the end, the core issue is the creation of an acceptable, effective and efficient police service supported by the entire community. Only when the community has confidence in the police—and the police in the community—will we be able to address the problems that are occurring on the streets. We have made considerable progress on the establishment of the new cross-community police force. It is getting a fair wind at the moment, and I hope and pray that that will continue.

As regards concessions to paramilitaries, the reason why I tried to illustrate the complexity of the problem is that doing or not doing deals with paramilitaries addresses only part of the problem. Immediately one addresses it, it disappears and arises under another heading, in a different way, with different people. The real carrot is to create an atmosphere of non-sectarianism, and respect for rights, liberties and law and order. I can only hope that rationality will be achieved as experience between and within the communities is gained, but it will take time.

I should like to make a few points about the report and the responses of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Office to it. Much is said about the co-ordination of the focal point of information. We are assured that such co-ordination is happening; that every agency is doing its thing and knows about the others. However, there is a problem, in that there appears to be no focal point for helping to ease the burden and trauma of people who are intimidated. We must organise that, highlight it, headline it and make it available. There must be a lead agency; in other words, people who are intimidated need to know where they should go as their first port of call. That is an important, practical aspect.

Another issue is the seamlessness of victim support systems in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. The report correctly dealt with that in considerable detail, but it is difficult, in practice, to experience a seamless approach, particularly because of the Sheugh, as we call it—the little waterway between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. There is a complete transformation of environment for people who move from Belfast to Birmingham. They are both cities, but they are different and the experience is traumatic. There should be a handing over if people are exiled from the island of Ireland. It is an easier process if they are exiled within Northern Ireland from their own community.

Another matter is the response of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for East Hampshire referred to the enormous number of incidents during the past two years and one of the most telling statistics concerns shootings, which rose from 136 to 186—an increase of 50—in 2001. Such shootings are horrific and most people in this Chamber have not seen their result. One lad last week had both his kneecaps and his elbows blown apart. That is the extreme measure of this horrendous problem. We must provide total support for victims and at the same time try to create an atmosphere in which neighbours will try to prevent such shootings or, when they happen, help to bring those responsible to justice as quickly as possible. The agenda is enormous if we are to achieve that.

There have been tremendous difficulties in north Belfast, where two substantial communities have been at loggerheads almost daily. Much of the recent dislocation has been caused by sectarianism rather than paramilitarism, drug patrols or protection rackets. I hope that that problem has been addressed, but again it will be a slow process.

The fundamental problem can be reached only by society adopting a new attitude to itself and the forces of law and order. In the meantime, we must address the mechanics of resolving problems for those who are intimidated and forced to relocate. Members of Parliament must address such issues in our communities daily.

2.57 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

First, I want to comment briefly on some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates). I served on the Select Committee that conducted the inquiry, but have since left it and was unaware until I heard from my hon. Friend that the Government took eight months to respond. I endorse the deep regret that he expressed about that. It suggests an attitude of disdain on the part of the Government towards Select Committees. The Select Committee may have hoped that the Secretary of State would be in the Chamber today as a gesture to compensate for that extraordinary delay in replying.

I agree substantially with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), with one important proviso. I do not believe that the Belfast agreement is the mechanism or contains the means whereby normality can be returned to Northern Ireland.

My contribution to the debate will be brief because some of the salient points have been covered and I need not repeat them. I want to make a personal statement of regret that the subject of the inquiry included the phrase "paramilitary intimidation" because "paramilitary" is a misnomer in this context. A paramedic supports those who provide medical care. Strictly speaking, a paramilitary supports the military, and that is not the role of the "paramilitaries" in Northern Ireland. The danger of that misnomer is that it may divert attention away from the fact that we are dealing with unreconstructed terrorist organisations.

Professor Kennedy supplied the most compelling evidence that the Select Committee heard. In paragraph 58(m) on page 8 of the report, he said: Turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the problem of paramilitary domination of certain areas, including the practice of exiling, is a gross betrayal of some of the most vulnerable, powerless and disadvantaged members of our society…We need to break the silence, at all levels of society here. There has to be a fundamental debate about the gravity of the problems posed by paramilitary organisations in this society". The Select Committee strongly agreed with that argument, and hoped that the report may provide a focus for the debate.

The Select Committee's difficulty in defining the scale of the problem was a manifestation of that blind eye being turned to the problem. We heard evidence that the practice of intimidation and relocation was prevalent in both nationalist and loyalist communities at about the same level. We learned from witnesses that many expulsions and punishment beatings went unreported and unannounced for the simple reason that the victims feared further punishment or violence to themselves or their families.

Neither the police nor the Northern Ireland Office could produce figures for the numbers of people who were relocating in Northern Ireland. That state of affairs fully justified the Select Committee's recommendation for significantly more accurate definition of the problem and the pattern of relocating as a precursor to improving the response to the problem of relocating following intimidation. Publicity is a key element of the response, but is not the only one. As the hon. Member for South Down mentioned, the solution lies in enhancing the effectiveness of the rule of law. It is a matter of opinion whether that will be achieved under the police reforms. I hope that it can, but I have grave doubts. The police force is broken, dejected and demoralised. There is also little evidence that it has any more cross-community support than it did. That is scarcely surprising because in Northern Ireland principles, morality and justice have been sacrificed to appease terrorism.

In paragraph 6 of the introduction to the report, the Select Committee makes an important point: The terms of reference we adopted concentrate specifically on those intimidated by paramilitary organisations into relocating, either within Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Expulsion is, however, only one of the tactics used by paramilitary organisations in relation to their control over areas. Not surprisingly therefore, much of the evidence has tended to reflect the rather broader theme of paramilitary attempts to control communities in their areas of operation, with exclusions viewed as one particular mechanism used. Another mechanism through which terrorists seek to terrorise communities was drawn to the Minister's attention when she met members of the victim support group West Tyrone Voice in Newtownstewart on 23 January. She was told that West Tyrone Voice has contact with 22 people in its area who are under death threats, either from the Provisional IRA, or from other republican organisations. That number does not include current or former members of the security services, who are always in that situation. Moreover, the number of people under threat of death has been increasing over the past three or four months at the rate of two a month. That is against a backcloth of 98 murders in West Tyrone during the troubles, 24 of which happened in the area of Castlederg, for which no one has been convicted.

Local Sinn Fein propaganda is that the IRA has defeated the British Government and the British Army. The IRA regularly and openly trains in Killeter forest, a fact that is known to the Strabane police, who take no action whatever. Those are the manifestations of the total breakdown of the rule of law and order in much of the Province.

3.5 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

The report is extremely important. I share a number of horizons with hon. Members who have spoken so far, the first of whom was the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), but I might sometimes place different nuances on certain aspects. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who were members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that produced the report. It is also a pleasure to be discussing a report that was one of the final two produced by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament under the chairmanship of the now Lord Brooke. I must stop paying compliments to him, because I pay so many. I appreciate the work that he did and the way in which he assisted that Committee to involve itself in serious discussions and to produce a series of valuable reports that did not duck the major issues in Northern Ireland. We have continued in that vein to pick up important matters under the current Chairman.

It is not often appreciated in Britain that Northern Ireland is now more divided in community terms than at any time in its history. The 30 years of trouble and the peace process that is on and off and does not change the balance of communities, have affected the possibilities of reconciliation, advancement and cross-community developments. People are separated in a strong way. As the hon. Member for South Down said, some of the intimidation goes back a long way and is not always exactly paramilitary intimidation, although paramilitaries may have been involved in stimulating and encouraging a great deal of it.

There has been intimidation leading to exile. Some intimidation has come specifically from paramilitaries and some has resulted from communal disputes and uprisings in which the paramilitaries have got involved. Much of that has led to internal exile within Northern Ireland. Some of it is resolved in the sense that people become members of different communities in Northern Ireland. The people whom the hon. Member for South Down described moving into his area, are now part of that community and have developed links and connections. They are not therefore exiles who seek resettlement in the areas that they came from. They have come to accept that their futures lie elsewhere.

As the hon. Member for Basingstoke pointed out, exile is but one tactic of intimidation and control; there are also punishment beatings and strong pressures on communities to conform.

Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan was an excellent person to present evidence to the Committee and respond to questions. He talked about areas where there was considerable paramilitary involvement and activity. They are not no-go areas—the police insist that there are no such areas now—but they might be described as slow-go areas, because the police have to defend themselves in those circumstances. He described the areas as part of Belfast, part of south Down, part of county Londonderry—including Derry—Dungannon and the border territories.

Maranatha, which gave excellent evidence and to which we spoke informally before deciding to embark on the investigation, saw the areas as wider than those mentioned and claimed that the paramilitaries were reaching into areas where they had not previously been and were now in many rural districts. The exiles come from those areas and are handled by paramilitaries in different ways.

I always think that one key element in resisting intimidation, making progress and ending people's exile is publicity. That is needed to tackle the expulsions. Maranatha told us of a case in which a list of 30 or 40 names had been produced to help people expelled from Northern Ireland. As a result of the pressure that was exerted, the organisation involved stepped back from that activity.

Professor Kennedy raised another case. I should first mention that I know the professor well and that we have been involved in a number of activities together, with bodies such as the Peace Train and New Consensus, which had a United Kingdom section and is now New Dialogue, of which I am joint president. Professor Kennedy's evidence was, as ever, extremely valuable, as many other Committee members will agree. He gave an example of a case in Newry—I was active in publicising this matter from the Westminster end—in which five young men were expelled from the Drumlane estate. Two of the families stood out against that decision, and the two men concerned took refuge in Newry cathedral. They later went into hiding, and after four months the Provisional IRA decided to reduce their exile sentence to a year. Within the next week, the men returned to Newry and the IRA took no action against them.

If people are determined enough and have the force of communities and public attention behind them, it is possible to gain reprieves and at least temporary victories in this hideous game. If today's debate is nothing other than an exercise in anti-exile publicity, it will have served the House well and assisted the situation in Northern Ireland.

There are important internal exile cases, but I shall concentrate on cases in which people are forced out of Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and Britain. In its Base 2 project report, the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders says that an average of 300 people have been exiled a year since 1996. However, they are people who contact the organisation and of whom records are kept. It might be a bit of a problem for those who have been pushed into exile to try to get help from an organisation that deals with offenders if they are not offenders themselves. It has an unfortunate title for these purposes.

Maranatha calculates that 3,000 families from the small Province of Northern Ireland are living in exile at the moment, and one difficulty in compiling the report was getting to them. We could talk to the authorities and to Maranatha, which does invaluable work in smuggling people out of Northern Ireland and assisting them when they are in Britain, but talking to exiles is not easy.

I had the privilege this morning of holding a press conference in the Jubilee Room with Joseph McCloskey and his mother Bridie. Joseph's case is written up in the article in The Times on 8 February by David Lister, which the hon. Member for East Hampshire mentioned. Joseph worked at a club. He was there once socially when one of the bouncers had trouble and was attacked by others. Joseph and his brother then moved in to sort the situation out. Unfortunately for them, and unknown to them, the people whom they sorted out were members of the Provisional IRA.

Joseph is now in exile in the north of England with his wife and six children. His wife suffers trauma in connection with the incident and has to take tranquillisers. The children now have great problems in meeting their grandparents, extended family, friends, associates and neighbours. That is just one example of what has occurred, yet Joseph was never involved in any form of problematic activity. Paramilitary groups use the distorted justification that they have to deal with antisocial cases because the police do not operate in an area. They call themselves the substitute community police. That is nonsensical, because many of the cases have nothing to do with antisocial behaviour and, even if they did, there is no justification for self-appointed people acting in such an obnoxious way.

Joseph McCloskey was informed beforehand that the IRA was going to turn up at his home. He was organised. He held a shotgun legally, and when about eight members of the IRA turned up to break his door down, they fled because he and his family showed that they were capable of defending themselves. However, they could not defend themselves indefinitely, so they had to go into exile. Another case reported in the press in Armagh was about a time when the IRA burst in and found a teenager defending himself with a gun. They contacted the police and supposedly said, "This is the IRA. Can you help us?" I doubt whether they got a favourable response.

As Professor Kennedy said, traditionally, young men rather than families were intimidated. Those young men would plead with the paramilitary group to be kneecapped rather than forced into exile, because, despite its horrors, being maimed by knee-capping was preferable to being divorced from their families and neighbourhoods. That shows that, despite the difficulties, there is a quality of life in Northern Ireland that should be nurtured.

As the Chairman of the Select Committee pointed out, I suggested yesterday that, as members of Sinn Fein and their assistants now have access to the House of Commons, they could turn up today and listen to the debate. I have booked the Jubilee Room at 5 o'clock, where the debate could continue; there is nothing to stop members of Sinn Fein speaking there even if they cannot speak in the Chamber because they refuse to take the oath. One reason why I supported their coming here was that I wanted to talk to them and engage in discussion. One of them has a room on the same corridor as me; I would love to see him walking along that corridor and then to pass the time of day or to have a serious discussion. However, as far as I know, no members of Sinn Fein are present, but Bridie and Joseph McCloskey are here listening to the debate. It would have been good if representatives of Sinn Fein could join us at 5 o'clock in the Jubilee Room.

Traditionally, exiles were young, working-class males, but since 1994 the trend has been for whole families to be pushed out. Even if some are problem families, that is no reason for crude policing, judging and executions by paramilitary groups. As Professor Kennedy said, they do not even make an effort to put the gloss of a kangaroo court on their activities or pretend that they are meting out justice. They do not need that sort of cover.

Short of there being an end to intimidation and exiles, what can we do? We can develop the police service and, as suggested by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) yesterday, everyone should involve themselves in the arrangements for the new police authority and not put a veto on its activity. Policing, in the short and long term, is tremendously important.

We can assist exiles; the Government, in their eventual reply, talked a lot about the role of citizen's advice bureaux and the assistance that they can give. We perhaps waited rather a long time for rather little.

The report suggested other things that could be considered. It quotes from an investigation in 1991 by the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—some members of that organisation are present—which does a great deal of invaluable work. It referred to —the importance of assistance to young people coming from Northern Ireland as a result of paramilitary activity receiving further study and support. The report stresses the importance of educational assistance. It mentioned —the problems of acceptance and assimilation which may be faced in Great Britain by members of the Unionist community, who regard themselves as 'British' rather than 'Irish'; and —the need to improve information for those coming to major British cities from Northern Ireland. The different culture and background in the Province causes problems. We must improve the information available to those coming to live in major British cities from Northern Ireland.

A great deal is made in the report about the need for co-ordinated provisions to assist people. Advice bureaux are one answer, but we need to go beyond that. One suggestion emerged from a recommendation of the New Dialogue Peace Group, of which I am joint president. There is a need for an anti-intimidation unit or special body to confront problems. It should link the various authorities dealing with these sorts of activities and be responsive to the needs of this country.

David Burnside

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another bureaucracy of civil servants and well-intentioned people—replacing what should be a civil police force enforcing the law and maintaining order within the Province—is the last thing that we want? The establishment of another intermediate agency will hinder the hon. Gentleman's objective of securing widespread community support for the forces of law and order, including the now highly demoralised Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Barnes

The police have the most significant role in Northern Ireland and an anti-intimidation unit would not be isolated from the police. It would seek their assistance. I do not accept the premise that organisations of well-intentioned people working for good causes are necessarily harmful. Many organisations, whether peace and reconciliation movements or bodies attempting to stamp out harmful activities, have helped to overcome some of Northern Ireland's problems, so I view them as welcome developments.

The Select Committee called for co-ordination. The Government's response, which is worth reflecting on, was that co-ordination of support activities, as the Committee advocates, would risk sending a signal to paramilitaries that, by working to alleviate the consequences of their actions, the Government was tacitly allowing them to continue with impunity. I accept the difficulty, but some factors override the objections. If other actions were being carried out, it might be viewed as if the state were conniving, perhaps by providing sticking plaster and bandages to assist people in those circumstances.

Lembit Öpik

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that failure to provide a support structure is to add a second injury to individuals who have already been punished by the summary exile that the paramilitaries have imposed?

Mr. Barnes

The case overrides those worries, but people's perceptions are a problem.

The key things are for the paramilitaries to stop exiling people and to call off the dogs. How can we achieve that? Not by appealing to the paramilitaries' good nature or hoping that when their political organisations get what they want, everything will slip into place. We must apply what pressures we can. One is the pressure of publicity. Paramilitaries, particularly the Provisional IRA, adopt the attitude that they and their political links should always act to maximise their advantages or minimise their disadvantages. That is why some decommissioning has taken place and why some arms have been put beyond use. Paramilitaries were in an embarrassing political situation, both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.

General elections are coming up soon in the Republic. We must remember that there was considerable reaction to extreme events that involved the Provisional IRA. The murder of Garda McCabe in Adare led to a mass funeral in Limerick and to considerable pressures. I hope that the Unionist Members who do not go to meetings of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body because they think that it comes out of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will reconsider their position. Some in the Republic are very worried about the pressures that come from the Provisional IRA and the political pressures that come from Sinn Fein. They worry that the balance of power will fall to those organisations, and that affects their position. Some politicians in the south have problems of self-interest, too.

There are issues about whether there should be trade-offs. I heard what my hon. Friend the Minister said this morning on BBC Radio Belfast, because I followed her. She was given a rough time by one of the interviewers on the question of intimidation because I was lined up next. She insists that there cannot be trade-offs, but that advancement should take place under the Belfast agreement. She thinks that it should not be a case of, "We will give a bit here if you give a bit there," but that genuine arrangements should be made. I have some sympathy with that view, but not in connection with that issue.

Mr. Mates

If the hon. Gentleman has sympathy with that view, how does he interpret the Prime Minister's remarks that there must be parallel progress? That patently has not happened.

Mr. Barnes

One can talk about parallel progress as advances that do not involve any concessions or minuses. Trade-offs are to the fore when considering intimidation that leads to exile. Those who escaped from the Maze prison in 1983 in a mass break-out, and who were involved in the murder of 11 people at Enniskillen, are on the run from justice. Others, such as Joseph McCloskey, are on the run or hiding from injustice. The plight of the exiles seems to me worse than that of members of the Provisional IRA who are on the run. However, there is symmetry between the two cases, even though one is worse than the other. There is a clear case for considering the two together.

If paramilitaries want clearance for those on the run, there is a price to be paid. I think that action can be taken by certain paramilitary groups in order to achieve that. In that view, I part company somewhat with the hon. Member for South Down. I agree that the process will take a long time, but the various paramilitary organisations have sufficient control over their membership to lay down the line. Why do they not say now that they will do their best to end intimidation and exile, and give us a sign that that has been achieved, resulting in a decline in the figures collected by projects such as Base 2?

3.35 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

At times, I wonder whether we live in the real world. We can study the matter dispassionately, although perhaps I am not the best person to do that. I have ministered for 19 years in north Belfast and have witnessed a mass movement of population which does not even compare with that in the city of Londonderry, which is changing scene entirely compared with other places. I have witnessed the process working in different ways. I have noticed people with removal vans, picking out houses to take over.

The Government of the day were dispassionate and acted strictly in monetary terms throughout. The compensation paid to a widow and her family who were put out of a house that they owned in Newport street, just after the death of her husband, was £10, the rating valuation of the house. It was worth much more.

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) about the Belfast agreement. However, a response to the report was available in a month, whereas it took the Government of the day in the Northern Ireland Executive six months. Strictly speaking, the terms of reference for a report from Government should be about two months.

I understand that problems can arise that prevent action. However, we recognise the problem of thuggery and of people trying to change a community. At the heart of the issue is exiles, to which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) referred—not only those who have had to leave a particular part of Londonderry to go across the river or have had to go to another part of Belfast, but those who live in the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain.

We discuss housing and education, but in the response there seems to be no understanding of the personal issues that affect people who cannot return to the place of their birth and the community from which they have been forcibly evicted. Some of the response is glib and reads as though formal arrangements were in place. I am not aware of any such arrangements.

I pay tribute to the voluntary organisations that did something, but I am also aware of other organisations that claimed to do things for which money was paid. The then press officer of the general assembly, the late Donald Fraser, telephoned me on several occasions and said, "Martin, there is a genuine case. I've examined it and I've been in touch with different people to see whether temporary accommodation can be found, even across the water, to allow things to cool. They can do nothing but, because of contacts on different levels, I was able to help."

There was no formal arrangement then, and I query whether there is a formal arrangement now, although citizens advice bureaux in Northern Ireland have done remarkable work. On the other hand, in Great Britain, facile tribute has been paid to the CAB. Those who have found refuge here have usually achieved that through informal contacts. That causes me great concern.

Hon. Members have referred to Maranatha. It is an apolitical body that crosses different communities and works throughout the United Kingdom addressing various issues for the well-being of the community. It is appalled by the continuing lack of serious intervention by those in authority. That sends the clearest possible signal to the paramilitaries.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke gave us a definition of the paramilitaries. Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland might not support medics, but they give them jobs. They have done that through their brutalisation and injury of men, women and children. They are terrorist gangs or lawless thugs, rather than arms of the state. That is one reason why I refuse to accept talk of decommissioning. It is time that the Government realised that decommissioned arms are the weapons of the state, rather than the weapons of terrorist groups. The world says that it is united in defeating international and home-bred terrorism, but we must start speaking clearly and improve our use of terminology.

I share the concerns of Maranatha. It says: The continuation of punishment for the innocent and liberty for the guilty should surely be unacceptable in any civilised society. Unfortunately, we are continuing to see that.

On Sunday, I gather, the Sunday World speculated that there has been, or might be, an act of decommissioning. I am not holding my breath for that, even during the forthcoming election, because although there may be a degree of camouflage to allow the paramilitaries to gain a little more credibility, my soundings from Tyrone and elsewhere show that there is no serious intention to hand over and destroy weapons, or at least put them beyond permanent use in a way that is verifiable.

I congratulate my colleagues on a remarkably thorough job in difficult circumstances. However, I regret that the Government have shown no urgency in responding to the continuing situation. One can only try to put oneself in the shoes of those who long to see their families at home, united and living in the community that they love. I appreciate that some people have managed to make a new life for themselves, but my knowledge of our people from all backgrounds tells me that they have an ache for the old sod until their dying day. That has worked to the detriment of elements in Northern Ireland because of the romantic dreams of Irish Americans.

We should give a strong message to the Government, who have a responsibility to protect their citizens, that the time for vague generalisations in the hope that those will motivate certain folk to advance a little further along the democratic path has passed. A signal was sent out by the recent events in north Belfast. I regret that that is the case, and I have no wish to defend those events, which were committed on behalf of so-called loyalism, because I know that they are repugnant to the ordinary men and women of that community. However, some people will say, "Governments listen only if you show a little virility."

3.45 pm
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I agree with the Select Committee and the former Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), that the events under discussion are a blight on Northern Ireland. Everyone should condemn and oppose them.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) in thanking the former Chairman of the Select Committee, Lord Brooke, for his excellent stewardship of the inquiry and the report, and for all the help and guidance that he gave me during my time on the Committee.

The Good Friday agreement obliges us to acknowledge those who have been the victims of violence, and to do all that we can to assist them. We must do that, if reconciliation is to achieved. With regard to that obligation, action is urgently required. Although hon. Members may hold different views about the approach that we should take, I hope that we unanimously agree that we should do everything in our power to bring the present situation to an end.

Those who seek to create segregated, homogeneous communities in Northern Ireland are fundamentally wrong. We should not permit paramilitaries to exert such control over people in specific neighbourhoods. As long as it is exerted, there will be no prospect of achieving genuine peace. We have seen in other places that have been blighted by conflict, such as the Balkans, Cyprus and South Africa before the peace agreement, that divided communities perpetuate fear and mistrust, and increase the risk that violence will continue and escalate, by producing further generations filled with bigotry and hate.

As part of its preparation for the report, the Select Committee visited South Africa. I was struck by the effort that was put into attempts at reconciliation in the immediate aftermath of the South African settlement. Although I acknowledge that it is not easy to achieve reconciliation, and I do not wish to deny the important work that has been done by people and organisations in Northern Ireland, more sustained action is needed. If there were ever any doubts about the need for decommissioning, what happened in South Africa in the aftermath of the peace process makes it clear that if we are to secure a long-term and genuine peace, the guns must be taken out of the situation. That is an important lesson, and we must learn it.

One of the tragedies of the attempts to segregate communities in Northern Ireland is that the people who are being divided and those who purport to speak for them have more in common than necessarily divides them. I have in mind particularly the recent horrendous scenes near Holy Cross school. If we stood back and looked at the social and economic make-up of the parties involved, we would see downtrodden communities on both sides, and people who desperately need economic investment and opportunities that would take their lives forward and give their children prospects for the future.

The energy that is used to keep those communities divided on narrow issues fails to make progress on the one thing that would advance all their lives: joint activity to deal with the massive, deep-rooted social and economic problems. We should recognise that those who have a vested interest in keeping the communities apart are not only perpetuating a feud, but denying the progress that would enable everyone to move forward. I cannot help but think that there must be a deliberate and cynical purpose behind such action.

When undertaking the inquiry, it was difficult to assess the real level of the problem. The official figures may be a gross underestimate. As Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan said in his evidence, there are times when the police think that some of the figures may be exaggerated. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire said, the police were clear that such activity was not as widespread as some may suggest. I am not trying to underestimate the seriousness of the problem, but it is confined to relatively few areas. When trying to understand the difficulty, we must recognise that it is not necessarily massive and widespread; nevertheless, it is extremely serious when it occurs.

There may be different motives on the part of those who claim to be victims of intimidation and those who claim to be carrying it out on behalf of paramilitaries. There may be other reasons why people say that paramilitaries are intimidating them. People may want cover for other activities in which they have been involved. They may be Walter Mitty characters, such as Mr. Vincent McKenna who, at one time, made great play of such issues. However, we now know that the way in which he chose to exploit the situation was a total falsehood on his part.

We must be conscious that others may behave in the same way. I am not saying that they do so deliberately, but at times we could question some of the activities of organisations that have tried to play useful roles. If an organisation is in receipt of a grant from the Government to tackle the problem, it has a vested interest in making it clear that it is a big problem, as that is the best way to have the grant renewed and to sustain its own activities. We should take into account the fact that, at times, there may be perverse incentives. I draw attention to Families Against Intimidation and Terror, especially when Vincent McKenna was associated with it.

I turn to the NIACRO Base 2 project. It became evident from our inquiry that at one stage the project became dependent on Government grants. Although it had clearly not had agreements with paramilitaries on individual cases, it acknowledged that it had entered into negotiations with paramilitaries. In a funny way, that was well intentioned, but the consequence was that it lent legitimacy to the authority of people who were doing the thing that it was trying to stop.

Mr. Hunter

The hon. Gentleman has referred twice to Vincent McKenna and to FAIT. I am aware of Mr. McKenna's fall from grace, but I am not aware of the defects in his work for FAIT to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Why does he distrust Mr. McKenna's work?

Mr. McCabe

The hon. Gentleman might have faith and confidence in the statements, works and actions of Mr. McKenna, but he is in a minority.

Mr. Barnes

Surely Vincent McKenna was a disaster as far as FAIT was concerned. That was a great pity, as it had such a fine record from its initiation. Nancy Gracey, who took the initiative and afterwards fell from grace, was a determined person. She helped to set up a viable organisation that attracted many responses in the House. It tackled the question of paramilitary intimidation, relating to exile or otherwise, in an important way. The first time that I met her was with a group of five people who had come over to organise escape routes for people out of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McCabe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and I am happy to accept them. My point was that at times there might be perverse incentives.

NIACRO admitted that it had to enter into negotiations with paramilitaries. Whatever its good intentions, that had the effect of legitimising people against whom we should be opposed. Maranatha told us that it had experienced specific cases in which payments were made to prevent people being exiled. That is not the sort of the thing that we want to encourage.

Lembit Öpik

Before we move on, the hon. Gentleman's point on Families Against Intimidation and Terror needs to be recorded clearly. McKenna's conviction means neither that that organisation was ineffective, nor that his contribution to its work was unimportant; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that. Does he accept that the greatest breakthroughs have been made when the present Government, and the previous Government, negotiated with terrorists? Nevertheless, I accept that payments seem to be beyond the pale.

Mr. McCabe

I do not want us to spend the rest of the debate on this point. In no sense am I trying to attack FAIT. I am casting aspersions on Vincent McKenna, and most people will understand why. I was making the point that we should be careful about the perverse incentives that may occur through steps such as grant funding and organisations being drawn into contact during negotiations with paramilitaries. That might lend a false legitimacy to a situation that we condemn.

Mr. Barnes

I accept that I was one of the people who was conned by McKenna. I brought him to the House for various meetings and activities, and I felt tremendously let down over what was later discovered about his activities. That cast a serious doubt on FAIT, but does not overshadow its earlier contributions through other methods.

Mr. McCabe

My hon. Friend's point is well made.

In the debate so far we have tended to concentrate, for obvious reasons, on the problems experienced by ordinary families or individuals, usually those in social housing areas. The evidence taken during the inquiry from the then Royal Ulster Constabulary highlighted the fact that another form of intimidation often resulting in exile is the intimidation of police, prison officers and other public officials. They are victims, and when we look for a way of tackling the problem, we should recognise that special consideration should be given to them.

Members of the Select Committee visited Dublin last week as part of our current inquiry. In respect of the Criminal Assets Bureau, I was struck by the decision to provide anonymity for those engaged in high-level activity to pursue criminals and people who may have paramilitary links. We can learn lessons from that about the kind of protection that we should afford public officials in Northern Ireland to spare them intimidation.

However serious the problem—I do not underestimate its seriousness—we must be careful not to lump everything together and say that it is all paramilitary intervention and therefore straightforward. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), the Chairman of the Select Committee, said that whole families are forced to move. It is true that the Committee uncovered evidence to support that, but Professor Kennedy also told us that the typical victim was a young working-class male. Such characteristics exactly mirror those of the typical victim of violence in Britain. We know that that occurs and should be stopped. We should not automatically assume that some characteristics do not also apply on the British mainland.

Mr. Barnes

Professor Kennedy said that that was the case up to 1994, but families were typical after that.

Mr. McCabe

As I have not marked the spot, I bow to my hon. Friend's superior knowledge. I may return to that, because I am not sure that it is strictly accurate.

Some who are being intimidated, and some who are doing the intimidating, have characteristics that more closely mirror criminal activity than the characteristics that we might associate with paramilitary action. Maranatha expressed concern about the perverse fact that drug dealers who had been forced out of an area because of their activities were able to jump to the top of the housing queue. It argued that something is wrong with a situation in which we condemn paramilitary activity, yet someone who is despised by the community and forced out can benefit in that way. We know that that occurs. Maranatha also made it clear that some of the activities are about the settling of personal scores. That is old-fashioned, traditional gangsterism, although it might happen under the cloak of paramilitary activity. In any other area of society, we would regard it as conventional crime and make a major response to it.

Lembit Öpik

One may find that distasteful, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we accept the judgment of the paramilitaries on those individuals and decide not to provide them with the support that we are discussing today, we commit ourselves to the same guilt—blaming those people for crimes for which they have not been formally tried?

Mr. McCabe

Either the hon. Gentleman misunderstands my point, or I have not made it sufficiently clearly. I am not saying that we should accept the judgment of the paramilitaries, but that, when we think about the support that should be given to the victims, we should recognise that a line can be drawn between genuine victims of paramilitary activity, for whom we should do everything we can to increase support, and other people who claim to be victims of paramilitary activity but against whom, on closer investigation, there is often much community support for some action to be taken.

I am not justifying paramilitary action, but most communities on the British mainland, as in Northern Ireland, would be happy to see drug dealers driven out. Many communities are happy to see antisocial families removed, and many want persistent petty criminals removed. We should not ignore the fact that that is occurring in this region. It is rather convenient, on occasion, for some people to take advantage of the very real horrors faced by genuine victims and use that as a cloak for the antisocial behaviour in which they are engaged. That came across time and again in the investigation.

We should try to draw a distinction between genuine victims of paramilitary activity and the other people to whom I am referring. A different response should be made to them. If we look elsewhere in Britain, what we want for people engaged in antisocial behaviour is clear, upfront, robust action from the police and authorities. If the police are to regain control and have the support of a local community where individuals are making the life of that community a misery, it would be good for us, as well as trying to tackle paramilitary influence, to diminish the opportunities that such individuals have to claim local support by tackling publicly and robustly the real problems that communities face. I hope that that clarifies my point.

The Government have promised some moves in that direction, but I do not know what progress has been made on the promises made to the Select Committee by Mr. Denis Haughey. He said that there would be a comprehensive set of measures in place by April 2002, which is recorded in the report. I do not know whether the Minister can comment on that, but it will be interesting to know what progress has been made.

As other hon. Members have said, the way forward is to strengthen the hand of the police where intimidation and violence are taking place. It was interesting that Assistant Chief Constable McQuillan said in evidence not only that there were no-go areas, and that some areas are difficult to police, but that during the past four years there has been a steady rise in ordinary calls for assistance from the west Belfast area. In fact, he said that they had doubled in the past four years. Underneath all the tensions and difficulties that we are encountering, there must be growing support and commitment from ordinary people for the police. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain a doubling of routine calls asking for police assistance from an area such as west Belfast. We have an opportunity to build on that through the new police boards, and I want to see that happen.

Finally, I support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire for an anti-intimidation unit. With respect to the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), I do not think that it would be an intermediate bureaucracy. I hope it does not send his blood pressure racing too much, but when I was in Dublin recently, I was struck by the effectiveness and simplicity of the Criminal Assets Bureau. It brought together the key personnel from key agencies to allow a concerted onslaught on specific crimes. That seems to be what my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire had in mind, and it is something that we should be calling for, not resisting.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara)

Order. Before we proceed, it might help hon. Members if I inform them that I shall call the Minister to wind up not later than 4.50 pm. It is desirable that I call a Member from each of the main opposition parties for an equal amount of time before that. Several hon. Members want to speak, and I am anxious that every party should have an opportunity to be represented. Although I have no power to limit speeches, hon. Members might want to bear that in mind when balancing their contributions.

4.11 pm
David Burnside (South Antrim)

I begin on the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) linked to my earlier intervention. If the crime taskforce chaired by the Minister proposes new legislation and new co-ordination against organised crime, which I believe is being discussed by the Northern Ireland Office, I am all in favour of that. I do not want any misunderstanding on that point.

I shall be as brief as possible, so that other hon. Members can make their contributions. Three months after being elected, I informed the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), who was in the United States at the time, that as defence spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, I was coming to his constituency to visit the troubled areas of White City, Limestone road and Ardoyne. Everyone has seen the problems of those areas on television. I welcome the debate and the report's highlighting of the amount of intimidation that has taken place.

I had not been in the Limestone road outside Mount Collyer school since I taught there in 1973. I had left Queen's university, did not have a job and did a bit of supply teaching, which was possible then. Mount Collyer was a wonderful secondary school where James Galway was educated, and it is now the Curry primary school.

I went into the grounds and walked across from Mount Collyer into the interface on the Protestant side: the Tiger's Bay end of the Limestone road. I was gobsmacked, and taken aback by the amount of intimidation that is taking place in Northern Ireland's working class communities. It has never been worse during the 30 years of the troubles. When I taught at that school, it was a disciplined school. The area could be called working class, or middle class closer to the Antrim road, but it was a decent, good and respectable area where Protestant and Catholics lived.

The Minister has responded recently with security measures along that interface on the Limestone road. The Protestant homes in the area have steel plates at the back because low velocity shots are fired down the alleyways, and petrol bombs are thrown. What are the working class people asking for? They want security walls that divide communities. There is something seriously wrong on the ground in north Belfast. I sympathise with my colleague the hon. Member for Belfast, North: he has major problems to deal with in that constituency. I have similar problems in my own constituency.

There is no respect for law and order on the ground among the loyalist paramilitaries in the big Protestant working class estates and the republican paramilitaries, who still exist. The Provisional IRA is fully organised, armed and involved in threats, crime, robbery and intimidation. It takes money from drug dealers, and disciplines them only when they do not pay their commission. The loyalist paramilitaries deal in drugs at a serious level. Crime, intimidation, robbery and theft exist at every level of society.

We keep talking about two communities in Northern Ireland, but in some ways there is another—the working class areas that are not being properly policed. They never will be, under the present management of policing by the Government. To police those areas, we need policing on the ground and community policing. There are only three things that matter in policing: morale, manpower and intelligence.

Morale was stripped out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary by its treatment post-Patten, which can be seen from the number of officers turning up for duty. Manpower has been reduced to a level that is totally inadequate to meet the terrorist threat and crime levels. The intelligence ability of the police service is seriously under attack by republicans—that is especially true of special branch, a particular target.

We must start to rebuild policing in Northern Ireland to attack the Mafia culture that applies throughout both communities in a non-sectarian way. There is a Mafia society in Northern Ireland and disillusionment on the ground because of the lack of law and order. Because of the agreement and the way in which it is being implemented—the deals being done, the nudges and winks about another amnesty and so forth—concessions are being made to the criminals and terrorists.

The present Minister of Education in the Assembly has not even regretted his activities in the IRA. In 1972, the same year as Bloody Sunday, 34 people were killed in Londonderry. What police investigations are taking place regarding Martin McGuinness—the 2OC, as he admitted to the Saville inquiry? There is no respect for politics in Northern Ireland when a system operates that disregards law and order.

The Government had better get their act together and rebuild morale within the RUC, because of the intimidation taking place on the ground. That intimidation is of Catholics in some of the council estates in my constituency and other parts of the Province. It is time that it was dealt with by more effective policing, stronger in numbers, intelligence and morale. I welcome the report and the publicity. The exiles need to be given help. Publicity brings pressure to bear on the paramilitary organisations that are intimidating them.

The leadership of the terrorist organisation sits in Stormont—Sinn Fein. The loyalist paramilitary leadership is well known. Let them take action. Let them apologise, send military directives down through their organisations and adhere to the admirable Mitchell principles. All terrorist organisations should be forced to adhere to them.

I welcome the report. I hope that it gets a great deal of publicity and helps those internal exiles in Northern Ireland. I tried to intervene on the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) when he mentioned Bombay street. The biggest transfer of population during the troubles occurred when 16,000 Protestants unfortunately had to move across the maiden city. We all find such transfers of Protestants and Catholics—because of intimidation and threat—unacceptable. That is not the sort of society that we wish to look forward to in the future.

Mr. McGrady

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. Having indicated that I would give way, I was then constrained by my own lack of evidence. Of course, I disagree with what he said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. In my inability to read the clock backwards, I chopped half an hour off the debate. I shall be calling the Minister at 5.20 pm.

4.19 pm
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I welcome the report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and commend the Committee for its work in producing the report, which is a welcome contribution to the debate on a crucial subject. It was a pleasure to serve on the Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Brooke.

I also commend the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who, in addition to his work on the Select Committee, has sought for several years to highlight the issue in the House. I hope that he feels that the report is a valuable contribution to achieving his objective of seeing the exiles return to their homes in Northern Ireland.

Finally, I wish to commend the work of Maranatha, with whom I have had the pleasure of working in difficult circumstances; my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) referred to the group earlier. I have been involved in cases in which young people in my constituency have been intimidated out of their homes by paramilitary organisations. Like my hon. Friend, I found that there was a lack of Government response and, as a Member of Parliament, I went to enormous lengths to help young people in such situations by getting the agencies involved and trying to co-ordinate a response. However, there was no coordination, and response was lacking. That has been clearly brought out in the Select Committee's report, and the Government's response is inadequate.

Figures produced recently in NIACRO's annual report indicate that, in my constituency, there were 23 cases of intimidation of individuals in 1999; that rose to 26 cases in 2000. The trend across Northern Ireland is upward. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), the figures for Bangor rose from 21 in 1999 to 29 in 2000. I could give many other examples.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said that we were in a period of transition and that we should expect some continuing violence. Are we to expect that intimidation should increase, when we were told that we would see an end to paramilitary violence? Intimidation is a form of violence.

Mr. McCabe

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can break his figures down any further. Would he concede that some of the violence is internal paramilitary feuding and that, sadly, it might be reasonable to expect some of that at the beginning of a peace process?

Mr. Donaldson

The hon. Gentleman's point may be fair. Unfortunately, I do not have a breakdown of the statistics. I do not dispute that internal feuds of paramilitary groups may be included. Nevertheless, in any circumstances, it is worrying that the trend is upward.

At the heart of the peace process, as it has become known, are the Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) referred to them earlier. I remind the Committee that two of the principles have particular relevance. The first is: To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations". We are not in negotiations now, but the principle still applies. Parties who signed up to the agreement were to renounce violence and the use of violence, and intimidation is a form of violence.

The second relevant principle is: To urge that 'punishment' killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions. We know that punishment attacks are related to the case of the exiles. Therefore, I believe that some of the parties who signed up or gave their consent to the agreement are in breach of those principles. They are also in breach of the principles when they fail to act to deal with the problem of intimidation.

I listened carefully to the Minister when she argued that the Government could not influence the paramilitary organisations, as they were not parties to the agreement. Perhaps she will correct that point in her speech. She referred specifically to the influence that can be brought to bear on paramilitary organisations. The Government can bring an influence to bear on those organisations, as can the parties linked to them. After all, the concessions that were made during the agreement, and which have flowed from it, were designed to bring influence to bear on paramilitary groups, presumably to assist them to make the transition from violence and terrorism to peace and democracy.

One is concerned about the extent to which the Government are using their influence. They could, and should, do more. I hope that the Minister would not seek to make a distinction between the paramilitary groups and the political parties that represent them with regard to the influence that the Government could bring to bear. I am not suggesting that she is seeking to do so, but I remind her that the Prime Minister said that the paramilitary groups and the political parties were inextricably linked. Pressure can therefore be brought to bear on the paramilitary organisations through those political parties. That is long overdue.

The paramilitary organisations are not reciprocating as they should in return for the major concessions that have been made to them. There is evidence that they have continued with intimidation and exiling individuals and families from Northern Ireland. In the report's conclusion, Professor Liam Kennedy stated: Turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the problem of paramilitary domination of certain areas, including the practice of exiling, is a gross betrayal of some of the most vulnerable, powerless and disadvantaged members of our society". That is the case. The Government and political parties have a responsibility to deal with the issue. However, the Select Committee's report highlights the fact that it is not being dealt with properly. I am not impressed by the official Government response, which was: Formalising the development of policy and the co-ordination of support activities, as the Committee advocates, would risk sending a signal to paramilitaries that, by working to alleviate the consequences of their actions, the Government was tacitly allowing them to continue with impunity. I do not follow that argument. People often find themselves in circumstances that are not of their making, and if they need help, they should have it.

A potential link was mentioned between the proposed amnesty for terrorists on the run and the exiles. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire rightly pointed out that we couldn't equate the two, as one deals with those who are on the run from justice, and the other deals with those who are on the run from injustice. I would be concerned about such an equation, and we must be careful.

The proposed amnesty bears brief consideration. As the hon. Member for South Antrim correctly pointed out, it goes to the heart of a deep sense of injustice that is felt by many people in Northern Ireland about how the Government are handling the process and about the implementation of the agreement. We must consider the contrast between the Government's approach to those people who are on the run and the lack of consideration given to exiles.

We are talking about people who are on the run from justice: people such as Dermot McNally who has been on the run for a number of years. He is one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the Maze prison. Robert "Fats" Campbell is a member of the M60 gang who escaped from the Crumlin road jail in 1981, having been sentenced to life in his absence for the murder of SAS Captain Westmacott. Nessan Quinlivan escaped from the Maze in 1983 while serving a 25-year sentence. Liam Averill escaped from the Maze dressed as a woman during a Christmas party held for prisoners' families. He had been sentenced to life for the IRA murder of two innocent protestants in Garvagh in 1996. Owen Carron, the former Sinn Fein Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, is on the run having skipped bail and successfully overcome attempts by the UK Government to have him extradited to face trial in Northern Ireland. Rita O'Hare, who was part of the Sinn Fein talks team that went to America in the early and mid 1990s, is wanted for questioning about IRA attacks in west Belfast. Again, this is evidence that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked.

Charlie Caufield is wanted by the police in Northern Ireland for questioning about the massacre on Remembrance Sunday in 1987 in Enniskillen when 11 innocent people lost their lives at the hands of the Provisional IRA. Those are the kind of people to whom the Government are considering granting an amnesty. They are on the run from justice; some have not even faced the courts to account for their evil deeds.

What are the Government doing for the exiles, many of whom are innocent people who have been driven from their homes and from Northern Ireland? Are a few lines saying that the Government are not sure whether they should co-ordinate support activities for these people the best that we can get? What efforts are the Government making to use the leverage that they have through the concessions that they are making to the paramilitary organisations to get them to end their intimidation and violence and end the exile of people from Northern Ireland? We are entitled to answers to those questions.

The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire suggested an anti-intimidation unit. I would go further. Some time ago, I proposed the establishment of a victims commission in Northern Ireland. We have a commission for just about everything else in Northern Ireland, but we do not have one for the people who have suffered through 30 years of terrorist violence. If we had a victims commission, the hon. Member's proposal could be incorporated into it. The exiles are victims of paramilitary activity. The Government should consider granting funding to establish a proper commission to co-ordinate and meet the needs of the victims of violence in Northern Ireland, which I and others have been urging for some time.

This is an important issue. It is about justice. It is also about free speech. We hear a lot today about human rights. This issue is about the right to live in peace in one's home with one's family free from fear. It is fundamentally about the kind of society that we want to create in Northern Ireland. In essence, it is about breaking the grip of paramilitarism that rules through fear in many communities in Northern Ireland.

In saying that, I will be painted as a hardliner, but is it hardline to stand up for decent people who cannot through fear speak for themselves? Is it hardline to speak out against the paramilitaries who think that they rule the roost in many parts of Northern Ireland? I do not think so. The hardliners are the people who put on the balaclavas. They go with their guns, baseball bats and nail bombs. They rule through fear, intimidation and violence. They are the hardliners in our society, and I make no apology for standing against them.

I urge the Government to take the issue seriously. If the report and this debate do nothing but ensure that they take the issue more seriously than hitherto and that they take more effective action to deal with people's rights, we will have achieved something. I hope that the Government are listening.

4.35 pm
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate. I am sure that all hon. Members share my view that it is outrageous and deplorable for anyone to be intimidated out of their home, community or family, and that that should be condemned whatever the circumstances. We have heard about various categories of people who have been intimidated and exiled from their homes for a variety of reasons, but whatever the circumstances, nothing justifies someone taking the law into their own hands and putting people out of their homes.

An hon. Member said that people had been intimidated and exiled and that, in many cases, the community would not only turn a blind eye but would welcome that. We have undoubtedly come across such cases, but as democrats and believers in the rule of law, we have to say that that practice should not be tolerated or accepted. It needs to be understood and accepted as a reality, but it should not be approved or condoned.

That is why I am often worried about the way in which the Government have treated many paramilitary organisations, and leading individuals in them, on both sides. In many cases, the Government have lent not just an air of credibility but real credibility to people who take the law into their own hands and undermine the forces of law and order and those of us who work within the law and the usual democratic and judicial processes.

This is an important debate. I share the hope expressed by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) that it will receive publicity and that people will focus on the issue. I know that he and others have taken steps to ensure that there is publicity, and I hope that that will bring some pressure to bear on those who are responsible for the exiling and intimidation.

Members of the House and those further field who are ignorant—sometimes wilfully so—of what is happening in Northern Ireland sometimes perpetrate the myth that such activity no longer takes place and that, as a result of the peace process, life in Northern Ireland has changed so greatly that we should not dwell on these issues. There is a notion that we are being negative and, as the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said, hardline when we focus on the activities of paramilitary organisations, and the fact that they and their arsenals are still entirely intact and they are actively recruiting more people to their ranks under the noses of Government, the police and security forces. If that is a hardline position, the vast majority of Unionist people, certainly in Northern Ireland, are now hardline. In fact, we are mainstream when we speak of these matters, because the reality on the ground is that paramilitary organisations on both sides are still active in recruiting, targeting and intimidating people. They still hold sway on many housing estates and in many areas in north Belfast, other parts of Belfast and other areas of the Province.

When I listen to people speaking, it is often clear that they either do not visit Northern Ireland or, if they do, they turn the Nelsonian blind eye to these issues. Everything is supposed to be wonderful and tremendous with the peace process bringing dividends, yet many of my constituents do not recognise a peace process at all. They see a process that rewards terrorists and strengthens paramilitary organisations' control over their areas. The terrorists are treated in a way that politicians democratically elected at the ballot box are not. Their voices and views are heard and responded to with more intensity and alacrity than those of democratically elected politicians.

I am pleased that we are having this debate and that we are focusing on problems which, despite the ceasefires and the Belfast agreement, are continuing. As some hon. Members have observed, problems are getting worse in many respects. As stated in paragraph 18 of the report, Maranatha maintains that many expulsions and punishment beatings go unannounced and unreported". I know from my constituency work of people in north Belfast who are afraid to report what is happening to them to the police. They are worried that they will end up on the receiving end of summary justice from these organisations and, worse, that if they reveal why they are being forced out of their homes, their family or friends will also suffer from intimidation.

North Belfast faces continuing difficulties with intimidation and exiling. As I said in the Northern Ireland Assembly recently—wearing my hat as the Minister for Social Development with responsibility for housing—the figures from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive reveal that, in December, only a proportion of intimidation cases originated in north Belfast. The majority of cases are outside Belfast altogether. It is a serious problem. Many people are being intimidated out of their homes as a result of paramilitary activity and threats, and it has spread far beyond north Belfast, affecting many parts of the Province.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) talked about a return to normality and acknowledged that that was not happening as quickly as he hoped. Far from moving towards normality, the reality is that positions are becoming more and more entrenched. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire was right to say that division and separation have never been as bad. The causes cannot be divorced from the political process that has been under way since 1993, which created a legacy of bitterness and alienation.

Decent, law-abiding people feel that an agenda is at work to appease men of violence, particularly if that violence is directed towards the City of London or the mainland. It is no wonder that there is so much despair. In my public life and having represented north Belfast for 15 years as a local councillor, an Assembly Member and more recently in this House, I have never witnessed or heard at first hand such feelings of despair, alienation and anger at the way in which paramilitary and terrorist organisations have been allowed to set the agenda. Those organisations have seen their demands met and their personnel rewarded, even with positions in government, while the needs of ordinary people on both sides have been relegated beneath the need to pander to terrorists and their fellow travellers.

We are debating intimidation and the exile of people from their homes but, as other Members have said, that is just one facet of what goes on in some areas. We have continuous reports of so-called punishment beatings and shootings, and of people being verbally threatened and having their windows put in and their cars smashed up. Much of that goes unreported, because people are afraid of the consequences.

No one should be under the illusion that, as a result of the peace process, we are somehow moving towards normality in Northern Ireland. I have yet to hear an indication from any paramilitary organisation that it will move to a state of complete disarmament or even begin to dismantle its structure. I hear all sorts of demands for the Army to be taken out of Northern Ireland, security installations to be dismantled, and the police to be reformed, yet I read reports in the newspapers that the various paramilitary organisations are stepping up their recruitment, increasing their activities and focusing on certain issues. Even when the police were reformed, there was little or no reciprocation. The Government have not dealt with that at all.

Members have referred to various types of intimidation. Clearly, there has been a major problem in north Belfast with the feud in the loyalist community, which has resulted in a major dislocation of population in certain parts of my constituency. That has not helped in trying to deal with some of the problems that already existed. There has been a campaign against the police, prison officers and others in Northern Ireland. One of my constituents was recently intimidated out of his home. He had lived for 20 years in a part of north Belfast, but one night a petrol bomb was thrown through his front window by a so-called loyalist organisation. That is an absolutely deplorable and outrageous event. His only crime was that he was a member of the police.

I know prison officers who have been likewise intimidated, and people have come into my office who are being forced out because they have been branded as guilty of antisocial behaviour or criminal activity. The people who brand them are themselves engaged in massive drugs and extortion rackets and all sorts of criminal activity, and are well known to the police.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady came to my constituency office to report that she was the victim of intimidation. She had been told that she must get out of a loyalist area because she had run foul of some family member of the people who were intimidating her. It was simply a case of them saying, "We don't want you here anymore. Get out." The lady's family, including five children who were all settled in school, were making a contribution to society, yet thugs forced them out.

People are forced out by intimidation on sectarian grounds, to which the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) and others referred. I could take hon. Members to houses in Twaddell avenue, Gunnell hill, Hallidays road and Serpentine gardens in north Belfast, where people were living three months ago, but which are now vacant. I know a family with three children who lived in Gunnell hill for 15 years who have been moved out because they are being harassed and intimated on sectarian grounds. Despite a peace fence having gone up behind them and our representations, there is an agenda to force Protestants out of the White City area of north Belfast and, unfortunately, they have gone. Two families in Twaddell avenue, one of whom has lived there for 40 years and been through the worst of what is euphemistically called "the troubles", have had enough and are moving out.

That is horrendous; it is a despicable situation, but that is what is happening in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, in 2002. It is four years since the Belfast agreement and eight years since the first ceasefire, which was interrupted by the IRA's decision to go back temporarily to murdering people, including two police officers in Lurgan. Indeed, the IRA attempted to murder me as I visited my sick son in the Royal Victoria hospital, and injured a policeman in the process. That is all conveniently forgotten.

Sinn Fein-IRA Members talk about their concern for children. Mr. McGuinness is Minister of Education, but he refused totally to condemn that incident in the Royal Victoria hospital when shots were fired through incubators. Let us realise whom we are dealing with when we deal with Sinn Fein-IRA. I am speaking about the reality for many of my constituents in Belfast, North. People are today being intimidated.

Concessions have been mentioned. Why do people turn to paramilitaries when it comes to dealing with antisocial behaviour? Many politicians in Northern Ireland are grassroots-based and we go to a lot of meetings of tenants' and residents' associations. I was at one the other night in Twaddell avenue and heard at first hand that the police cannot cope. People said that there were no police available in the numbers required to deal with antisocial behaviour such as crime and burglary, never mind enough to provide the security that would give people the peace of mind to live in interface areas. That is what people are saying.

I meet Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan almost every week to discuss security issues in north Belfast, and I have always found him helpful in trying to deal with those matters. He and other senior police admit that they are in difficulty because of the lack of resources and because the police force is so demoralised that many of them are off sick. The Government must address those issues and face up to the fact that the way the police have been treated has exacerbated the situation.

I reiterate the appeal that I made to the Minister yesterday. At a time when we are facing all those problems, especially in my constituency, the York road and Greencastle police stations, the only two police stations in lower north Belfast which cover the Whitewell road, White City area and the Tiger's Bay, Newington area—the two areas with the worst trouble in north Belfast—are scheduled for closure. The police admit that that will not result in extra resources being made available, but will simply make up for accounting losses in the police budget.

What sort of signal will it send to my constituents and to ordinary, decent, law-abiding people if the decision to close those police stations proceeds? It will lead them to the conclusion that, if the police cannot protect them, only one group of people will. I do not want that to happen, and decent, law-abiding people do not want that to happen. It is the last thing that they want, but they say to me and I am saying on their behalf that steps must be taken to ensure that the police and security forces do not abandon people by ceasing their commitment to on-the-ground, community policing.

I endorse what other hon. Members have said, especially the hon. Member for South Antrim, about the process on concessions that is under way. It is little wonder that some people believe that they can get away with such activities when, far from being subjected to sanctions, they receive concession after concession. The Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland Executive refuses to endorse the police and refuses even to ask people who have information that might lead to the apprehension of the Omagh bombers to provide that information. What sort of signal does that send to those who say that they will take the law into their own hands? A Government Minister, who is a self-confessed IRA commander, refuses to support the police and will not even ask people to give information to the police. It is little wonder that we have such a sense of lawlessness.

I have listened with concern to the notion about the amnesty that the Government may introduce to allow on-the-run terrorists to escape justice. The hon. Member for Lagan Valley named some of those who may benefit from that legislation. I have difficulty with the notion that some acts are distasteful and wrong but may be acceptable as part of a trade-off. I listened to some hon. Members expressing concern about an amnesty and then saying that it might be acceptable to allow on-the-run terrorists to escape justice if there was a move by the Provisional IRA, Sinn Fein-IRA and others to lift the bar on exiles returning to Northern Ireland.

On one hand, it is suggested that if illegal, terrorist activity is given up, the Government will in turn provide a reward by throwing justice into the gutter and allowing on-the-run terrorists to escape scot free. That is not much of a trade-off, and not many people in Northern Ireland believe that it is. Governments should not be involved in trade-offs. If the Government are so minded and other parties are minded to support them, that would be seen in Northern Ireland for what it is and would reinforce the notion that the Government are engaged in a process with paramilitaries and terrorists who equate their illegal, terrorist, immoral and filthy acts with what the Government are doing. There is no equivalent and there should not be such trade-offs. To engage in such a process is reprehensible and brings the Government and democracy into disrepute—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call Lembit Öpik.

5 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I apologise to the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) for being a little late. I heard only a third of his speech. No doubt had I been able to listen to all of it, I would have enjoyed it three times more. I apologise if I make some points that have been made already. As hon. Members will be aware, I was detained by the simultaneous discussion in Committee of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) speak. He always brings such helpful insight to the debate. He makes people understand the two issues involved, as do other hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland.

I thank members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for compiling such a clear and concise document. I pay particular tribute to Dennis Wigley of Maranatha, to the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and to the voluntary organisations that have over the years done so much to assist those who have been intimidated out of their homes and sometimes out of their homeland by the paramilitaries.

Article 6 of the European convention on human rights states: in the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing…by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law". If we allow ourselves to countenance paramilitaries invoking summary justice and justifying it on the basis that they are maintaining law and order, we are not only violating the principle of article 6, but guilty of not trying to enforce law and order in Northern Ireland. However much individuals involved in such intimidation attempt to justify it, we need to recognise that normality in Northern Ireland will not be achieved until the rule of law prevails—regardless of how frustrating that may seem to some individuals who probably sincerely believe that actions causing individuals to relocate are justified in the interests of their community.

Furthermore, those individuals who we are told violate the interests of the community do not represent the bulk of those who are intimidated out of their homes. The police have identified six principal categories of victims: victims of sectarian intimidation; victims of paramilitary feuds; members of the security forces, prison officers and public officials; alleged criminals; those who have disputes with paramilitaries; and victims of racial intimidation.

Maranatha maintains that many of the victims whom it has assisted had no involvement with paramilitary or criminal organisations. We must recognise that many of the people who have been intimidated are in the category of individuals described by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes): on the run from injustice. That is a more effective description than on the run from justice.

Exiles and their families suffer many consequences, but on-going trauma requires extensive medical, psychiatric and counselling support. Individuals who cause victims to become exiles must recognise that they are almost creating a counter-productive environment. Sometimes they cause people not to face the alleged crimes that they have committed. Furthermore, they cause great suffering to individuals who have done nothing. Therefore, we must recognise the importance of formal agencies in order to address the difficulties that are experienced by those who have been exiled.

I welcome the response of the Northern Ireland Executive to the Select Committee's report and, especially, the reference to an action plan to outline commitments to meet the needs of victims. I also look forward to reading the Hansard account of the debate on exile proposed by the Alliance party of Northern Ireland, which is planned for Tuesday.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) said that although some victims are genuine, some people masquerade as victims. There must be a process of law to determine the difference between them. Until individuals have gone through such a process of law, we must adhere to the British principle of justice that a person is innocent until proven guilty, however galling that may seem. The consequences of the paramilitaries' efforts to exile individuals should inevitably lead to support, and may be a barrier to ensuring that the justice that the paramilitaries mete out in an ad hoc way is achieved.

I was somewhat disappointed by the support that the Government gave to the report. They said that they are satisfied that the support necessary for victims of intimidation resettling in Great Britain is in place…Formalising the development of policy and the co-ordination of support activities, as the Committee advocates, would risk sending a signal to paramilitaries that, by working to alleviate the consequences of their actions, the Government was tacitly allowing them to continue with impunity. That is like saying that the Government tacitly endorse road accidents and domestic violence by putting accident and emergency departments in hospitals. Accident and emergency departments exist because accidents and violence happen, despite our efforts to prevent that. Despite the Government's best efforts, the exile of people continues. Until that stops, it is unreasonable to punish the exiles by not giving them an efficient support structure. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to that.

We require a three fold approach. First, we need an initial focus point that victims can contact after they have been subjected to intimidation or attack. That could put victims in touch with an appropriate organisation in Northern Ireland or Great Britain that could establish their needs and circumstances.

Secondly, we need to increase awareness of the services that are available to people who are forced from their homes. Such people must know where to turn in order to get specific help. It is difficult to define the scale of the problem. However, if the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire is correct to say that 3,000 families are in exile, and if that were factored up to the United Kingdom's population, it would represent the equivalent of 120,000 families in exile, which would be more than 250,000 people. Therefore, the problem affects a substantial proportion of people who live in Northern Ireland, and we can assume that the support services would have a significant work load if they were based in Northern Ireland. They must be resourced effectively, although such resources should be available on the mainland.

Thirdly, we must ensure that we support the police in order to encourage communities in Northern Ireland to gather behind the forces of law and order. That would allow us to collect more accurate figures. Crucially, the replacement of the self-appointed paramilitary organisations by the police services would do much to remove the problem per se.

I add my voice to an appeal that we have already heard during the debate. The individuals who are responsible for guiding the organisations must think seriously about supporting the police of Northern Ireland in providing a legally binding solution that is acceptable to all communities.

I agree with the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), who said that the Government have the capacity to engage with the groups. It is evident that Sinn Fein and the IRA are connected. That is not a secret. The Ulster Defence Association, which has been disfranchised to an extent by the decline of its political wing, has the opportunity to re-engage in the political process as a result of the work of the Ulster political research group. Frankie Gallagher is actively involved in that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I call Quentin Davies.

5.10 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

I congratulate the Select Committee on choosing this pertinent subject, and for doing such a thorough job on it. This has been a high-quality debate. There have been some powerful speeches, especially from hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Province, and who speak from experience about its problems. Those speeches have highlighted the importance of the subject under discussion.

There is bound to be continuing doubt about exactly how many people have been involuntarily exiled. However, it is clear that the problem is significant and that it continues to this day. There are two types of involuntary exile and displacement. First, there is the displacement of entire communities—the attempt to push people of a different religious background out of an area. As the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said, sadly, Northern Ireland has a long tradition of that.

Secondly, there is the phenomenon of gang bosses—terrorist bosses—enforcing their hideous discipline by terrorising the people of their own communities. They decide who is allowed to live there, and they dispense the atrocious punishments about which we have heard so many descriptions. The more I read the report and listened to the descriptions, the more I thought that the situation is exactly comparable to that in Palermo or Chicago during the worst periods of Mafia domination. Parts of Northern Ireland are suffering from mafioso justice and terror, and it is of concern to all hon. Members that that continues to be the case.

I have one reservation about the report's recommendations, although the Minister will be pleased to hear that I support the Government's response to the Select Committee—and in particular the response of the Northern Ireland Office. Although I understand the reasons that have motivated the Committee to suggest that a new mechanism—to use the Committee's term—should be put in place to handle the problems that are created when people are involuntarily expelled from their homes, that approach might present dangers.

I do not want to reject entirely the introduction of such a mechanism, but it should be given careful thought, because our priority must be to do nothing that might suggest for one moment that we are acquiescing to these terrorist—or Mafia—bosses by accepting that they have a right to expel people, or by making the procedure to handle such expulsions a normal part of life in Northern Ireland. We must be very careful not to do anything that might give that impression, but we must do something to attack the underlying problem and to solve it.

As I have said in the House, we must implement the community policing provisions of the Patten report. That report has been justifiably criticised on many grounds, but its community policing aspects are important and, sadly, the Government have not sought to implement them.

"Community policing" is an ambiguous term. What I mean by it is what Patten meant by it, which is neighbourhood policing. Normal policing must be restored in Northern Ireland. I want police officers to return to the beat so that they can get to know the people in their area, and to start to work with initiative rather than just respond to situations. There is no hope unless we can somehow make progress in reinserting such policing into society in Northern Ireland.

That relates directly to the issue of resources, and is why I continue to press the Government, as I did yesterday, about their intentions on the full-time police reserve in Northern Ireland. In their heart, the Government take seriously the need to make a success of policing in Northern Ireland. It is therefore crazy that the service should be run down. Yesterday, the Government put the onus for a decision on the Chief Constable. I think that I know what his response will be, but we must remove the uncertainty.

We should also reconsider the availability of witness and citizen protection schemes in Northern Ireland. It is clear from the evidence given to the Select Committee in column 81 by the Assistant Chief Constable, Alan McQuillan, that the only systematic protection scheme applies to people who are known as "key persons". That is a great problem. Any citizen has the right to be protected if they are in danger of their lives, whether they are a judge, a politician, an important or unimportant person. Police resources in Northern Ireland are inadequate, but protection should be an absolute priority in the activities of the police and a first call on their resources, whatever those resources are.

I recently spoke to a minicab driver in Belfast who had been hijacked by paramilitaries. His car had been used in a shooting, but he never reported it because he was more frightened of retaliation by the terrorists who had taken his car than of the justice system. He laughed when I asked him whether there was any witness protection system from which he could benefit. His laughter was justifiable, which is sad. There is no hope if that continues, as there is a vicious circle.

If we want to catch terrorists, we must ensure that people are prepared, and brave enough, to stand up to them. We must ensure that they are encouraged to do so, and can do so without believing that their lives and those of their families are at risk. Unless something is done and real investment is made, we will get nowhere. The Government are prepared to spend £2,500 a day on their counsel in the Saville inquiry. That would provide a lot of police protection, and might save some lives. I hope that they think that that would be a better use of their money than paying Mr. Mansfield QC, or others of their favourite lawyers.

We must persuade those who say that they have given up terrorism and taken the road of democracy to live up to their declarations by ensuring that such dreadful evil comes to a rapid halt in the communities where they have influence. The Minister has heard me say so many times in so many different contexts in the past few months that there must be a quid pro quo where the Government are making concessions. Concessions must not be forthcoming, and must not be continued, unless there is an appropriate response from those groups that demand them or have benefited from them. It is as simple as that. It is vital that a new rigour of that sort enters Government thinking before too long.

The Minister said that it was not possible to link an end to paramilitary intimidations and the amnesty to on-the-run terrorists, to which the Government appear to be so wrongly committed, as such terrorists came in so many categories. Some had accepted the Belfast agreement, and some had not. That is not a problem. One could say that the only terrorists that benefited from the amnesty were those associated with organisations that appeared to be observing their commitments. I do not believe that any move by terrorists or former terrorists would be sufficient to justify the enormous concession of an amnesty.

The amnesty is contrary to what the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said disingenuously at the Dispatch Box yesterday. That is not required by the Belfast agreement. It has nothing to do with it. It is a gratuitous and unnecessary concession offered by the Government without any linkage, and, therefore, entirely irresponsibly. It seems wrong to consider such a concession except as part and parcel of the completion of decommissioning and the end of armed struggle and terrorist activity, including intimidation—an unpleasant aspect of terrorist activity about which we have had a memorable debate this afternoon.

5.19 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

I pay respect to the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), the Chairman of the Select Committee, and Committee members for the Committee's work and the quality of the report, as I do to Lord Brooke. Both the hon. Gentleman and Lord Brooke are parliamentarians with great experience in the field. We take their comments on the subject seriously and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we listen to what they and the Select Committee have to say.

I stand before hon. Members and hang my head. To be criticised for the content of the Government's response is well and good and part of the democratic process of debate. To be criticised for such a long delay in the Government's response is perfectly valid criticism, too, and I can say little in defence other than refer to the general election, a new ministerial team and the fact that, as I hope hon. Members will accept, it has been an especially difficult year for a new ministerial team to come into office. I hope that the Select Committee will accept that humble apology and my undertaking that we shall not allow such a lapse to happen again. I hope that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) will accept that that long delay does not reflect a lack of interest on the Government's part, as I hope to show him and his colleagues in my response today and in further communications with hon. Members.

A comment was made about Sinn Fein not being present. I associate myself and the Government with those who have regretted the fact that Sinn Fein Members have not even taken the opportunity to sit beyond the Bar and listen to the debate. We hope that their staff have taken note and used the facilities that are now available to them to listen to us and that they will read our deliberations.

It has been an interesting and worthwhile debate. It will not be possible for me in 10 minutes to do justice to both the debate and the report on this important subject. However, I shall try to respond to as many of the points that have been made as possible. It is beholden on me to respond to a few.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) pressed me on the improvements that had been promised by Minister Haughey in the devolved Administration. The office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has completed its public consultation on its strategy for co-ordinating the Northern Ireland Office's response to victims' needs. I cannot say when the strategy will be published, which is obviously a matter for that office, but it is being finalised.

In an eloquent and passionate speech, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson)—I am sorry that I shall not be able to pay tribute to all hon. Members who participated in this interesting debate—urged us to do more in bearing down on paramilitaries engaged in such unacceptable activity. I refer him to the comments that the Prime Minister made yesterday, at column 206 of Hansard. No one could hear or read those comments without hearing the clear message that we use every opportunity at our disposal to press those who have influence to use that influence to make paramilitary organisations desist. I did not want to imply in my intervention that because that is difficult we are not making the effort.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley also pressed me on the question of the victims' commissioner. I acknowledge that the Bloomfield report recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of such a commissioner to act primarily as a watchdog over the delivery of services and to give advice to victims. We have not pursued the recommendation, but the matter is still open. However, we have established a Minister for Victims—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—who will keep the strategy for responding to victims' needs under regular review. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley will accept that that answers his point in part.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke pressed me on the question of the West Tyrone Voice. I should prefer to reply to him in writing, if I may. I would then be able to reply more fully than I could now.

I am grateful for the measured criticisms made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and for his support for part of the Government's response to the report. As we said, our policy in this area is to encourage people to liaise with the police in order to try to make them more secure in their community, or, if they felt obliged to move, to work towards their reintegration.

We need to support those forced to leave their homes, but I urge hon. Members to accept that the mechanisms to do that are already in place. In paragraph 26 of the report, the Select Committee noted: Those forced out of Northern Ireland often face a number of practical difficulties, such as finding a doctor, suitable housing accommodation, suitable employment". Hon. Members gave some moving examples of those difficulties today.

Those who travel to Great Britain from Northern Ireland as a result of intimidation form part of a wider homeless population, which the Government are addressing strategically as a matter of policy. As a result, there has been considerable success at the hard edge of homelessness. We have cut the estimated number of rough sleepers by more than 71 per cent. since 1998. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has taken on responsibility for victims and has moved the Government's programme of support forward.

I hope that the Committee accepts that we have allocated more than £18.25 million for victims' issues and have put in place a comprehensive series of initiatives to provide much needed support for victims and their families. Some £250,000 of that amount has been allocated to the Legacy project, which is being delivered by the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball trust at the Warrington peace centre. The aim of that project is to identify and meet the needs of victims of the troubles living in Great Britain. That includes not only members and families of members of the armed forces who served in Northern Ireland, but residents from Northern Ireland who were forced to relocate to the mainland.

We are considering how the remaining £250,000 could best be put to use. It goes without saying—although I will—that we utterly condemn all paramilitary violence and intimidation. We acknowledge the need to help those who have been displaced, but we consider that our first responsibility is to tackle the cause, as we have been urged to do today, rather than the effect. Even though the main paramilitary organisations have had ceasefires in place for some years, we have always acknowledged that those ceasefires were imperfect because we were in a period of transition.

Many hon. Members criticised the Government's assistance, management and support of the police service in Northern Ireland. It is worth drawing attention to Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan's response, which is quoted in paragraph 32 of the report. I accept that that response was made on 13 December 2000, and that a lot has happened in the past difficult year. However, he told the Select Committee that in parts of West Belfast, the last three or four years, we have seen the number of calls, routine calls, to the police for assistance virtually double. He cited that as evidence that people in those areas wanted to get back to normal policing and were rejecting the paramilitaries. We in government will do everything that we can to reinforce that trend.

The organised crime taskforce, which I chair, has had considerable recent success in the fight against organised crime. One of the ways that we can crack the paramilitaries' control is by hitting their resources and their ability to organise. The taskforce is taking that work forward. The successes of the taskforce and those agencies will impact directly on the finances of the organisations concerned. We in government will keep up the pressure on the paramilitary organisations.

I believe that, given good will and support from all sides—particularly support for the police in Northern Ireland—we will turn the tide. I believe that people in Northern Ireland will come to see that rejection, rather than fearful acceptance, of paramilitary threats is a viable option, and when they do, the control of those organisations will be broken. Until then, the Government will continue to make appropriate provision for those forced from their homes. We believe that we can best serve them by working to create circumstances in which they feel able to return home.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Five o'clock.

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