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The Government clearly decided what they wanted to do. They produced and packed the review, and its chairman reported directly to them. Other members of the review group are directly on their payroll. The second half of the charade is that they then produced a response to
Mr. Browne: It is now clear how far the hon. Gentleman read into the review document: he read to the bottom of page 2. If he reads the top of page 3, he will see that there were another five members of the review group, all of whom were independent of Government. The majority of the group were independent, so why did he stop reading the names at the bottom of page 2 and not continue to read those of the five independent people on page 3?
Mr. Davies: Simply because I was reading out the names of the people who report directly to the Minister or to his boss, the Secretary of State. They packed the review group with their civil servants and they nominated the chairman. Of course, they can have one or two outside membersas, indeed, they doto provide the fig leaf, but that is simply part of the charade.
Another part of the charade relates to a serious abuse. The Government tend to justify the Bill and the particularly obnoxious provisions about the oath of allegiance and about the presence of the royal coat of arms in courtrooms and on new courthouses by saying that they have something to do with the Belfast agreement. I am sure that, like me, the Minister has read the Belfast agreement; I have read it several times. Therefore, he should know that there is nothing in the agreement about these two provisions. It provides for a review of the justice system in Northern Ireland. It also sets up the terms of reference for the criminal justice review in one of the appendices, and I can tell the Minister where that is if he wants to know. Nothing is included about the oath of allegiance or the royal coat of arms. The beginningthe fons et origoand the end of the proposal lie with the Government. They came up with the idea and are responsible for establishing the review group and packing it with their people. They got the proposal from the review group; it has nothing to do with the Belfast agreement. They responded in the review document and put the provisions in the Bill, and they alone can take responsibility for them.
David Burnside: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's track record on independent reviews since the Belfast agreement is not particularly impartial? Will he comment on the track record of the Patten report, which, under the Belfast agreement, was meant to recommend changes that would receive widespread community support? Instead, however, the Government recommended removing the "Royal" from the title of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There is a republican tendency within the Government.
The hon. Gentleman's comment on republicanism brings me back to the question that I asked, which has not been answered. If it is desirable to remove the oath of allegiance and take away the royal coat of arms from courtrooms, why is that not being done in the rest of the United Kingdom? Why do the Government not have the courage of their convictionsif, indeed, they are convictions?
Lembit Öpik: I have listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's conspiracy theory on republicans in the Government. In that context, who will appoint the Advocate-General in the new system, and what will his continuing responsibilities be for Northern Ireland?
Mr. Tom Harris: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there is no such thing as a United Kingdom legal system? The fact that Scotland has had her own legal system for 300 years has not contributed to any great wish for Scotland to become independent.
Mr. Davies: Of course I realise that; indeed, I think that I referred to that earlier. We all know that Scotland has a different legal system. It is based on Roman law and was in place at the time of the Act of Union 1707.
My hon. Friend initially put his question to the Minister five or six times, but the Minister sat in his seat looking blank until inspiration arrived from elsewhere. The Government cannot hide behind the review. It is their Bill that is before the House and they must stand or fall by what is in it. They cannot palm responsibility off on others.
Mr. Davies: My hon. Friend scores a bull's eye, as he would know if he had seen the Minister shift in his seat as he spoke. As he says, the Government are responsible for the anomalous mess and the disreputable concessions. They might go three quarters or even 90 per cent. of the way towards republicanism, but they do not have the courage of their convictions and go the full 100 per cent. The Government cooked up the Bill. They were responsible for the review, which they dominated. They packed the review committee with their people and produced their own response. The procedure has been incestuous and I do not believe that it will confuse anyone.
Why have the Government gone in for this particular exercise? We have established that, and the debate has been a good one. The Government's decision is not based on a conviction, because if the measures were so virtuous and desirable in themselves they would be extended to the whole of the UK. We all know the answer. The Bill has been introduced for no other reason than to provide one more set of concessions to one of the parties in Northern Ireland. Every time we have a Northern Ireland debate, at least one new concession is made and it is always tailored to the same beneficiaryIrish republicanism. It is impossible to get more republican than the Bill. It cannot be a coincidenceor, if it is, it is a revealing onethat the Bill comes before the House on the day when Sinn Fein-IRA MPs are claiming their privileges for the first time.
I remind the Minister, and he does need reminding, why we believe that the course of offering endless concessions in one direction in Northern Ireland is inept, irresponsible and dangerous. First, the concessions are not linked to a counter move by the other side. The Government give away their negotiating currency and, when they run out of that, they try to raise more at the expense of the integrity of our institutionsParliament, the system of justice and the Crown. They then throw away the new concessions without getting a quid pro quo. That is a hopeless way to conduct a negotiation.
The second problem with the tactic is that, far from speeding up the implementation of the Belfast agreement, which is an objective that we all sincerely share, it can only do the reverse. Sinn Fein-IRA have every incentive to spin out the agony on decommissioning because the longer it is spun out, the more concessions they get from the British Government. That is a lamentable state of affairs.
By moving beyond the Belfast agreement and making a stream of concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA without waiting for it to be implemented, or even insisting on its implementation, other parties are increasingly feeling that they are being made fools of in some way because it is a one-way street. It is not just the Unionist community that is affected, although it is the majority group. What about the Social Democratic and Labour party? After all, the SDLP and its predecessors have for generations persistently and bravely fought for human rights and equal opportunities in Northern Ireland and, quite legitimately, for their ideal of a united Ireland. In doing so they have always stuck to constitutional principles and adopted peaceful methods. The SDLP has acted in the finest traditions of its predecessorsO'Connell, Parnell and Redmond.
What has the SDLP got? It has not received any great bouquets from the Government. It has not been given a specially crafted concession or a special status here at Westminster. It has not had the Government rolling out the red carpet and allowing it to hold press conferences in Downing street. It is entitled to feel as aggrieved by the Government's handling of the matter as are the Unionist parties. Ultimately, the Government's policy is not only inept but extremely dangerous. They must change course before it is too late.
Sometimes the Government like to ask me what I would do in their place. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), did so the other day. It is quite simple. First, we would state that there would be no unilateral concessions at all. Nobody would receive concessions without making some effort in return. Concessions might be related to decommissioning. They ought to be related to decommissioning in present circumstances because it is running over a year and a half late, which is a serious matter.
Concessions might, however, be related to other matters. When the Secretary of State was still here, we discussed policing. I put the question again: why, when the Government are to give bouquets to Sinn Fein-IRA, did they not take the opportunity to say, "You can't have this unless you do your part on policing"? I am extremely worried about the summer parades season in Northern Ireland. No progress is being made in negotiations, so perhaps the Government could ask for concessions on parades. It is essential that when the Government have something to offer they do not throw it away. They must make sure that it is bargained for concrete progress in the peace process.
Secondly, we would try to have a programmed process involving all parties, so that everybody knew exactly what needed to be done, when it needed to be done and what the end of the line was. The desperate situation in Northern Ireland today is that nobody knows where the end of the line is. Nobody knows how many more