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8.40 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). I agreed with much of what she said and particularly with the tone of her contribution, which was constructive, considered and intelligent.

It is a pity that the Opposition's contribution was made in such a different tone. Unfortunately, that reflects what I fear is a shift away from their earlier support for the Good Friday agreement. At one point when I was listening to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) expressing full synthetic outrage, I almost wished that we had the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) back. The Conservative party claims to support the Belfast agreement, but in all its actions, its rhetoric and its language it consistently works to assist the opponents of the agreement both in Northern Ireland and on its own Back Benches.

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The Bill is very welcome. It is a further step towards the full implementation of the Belfast agreement. As hon. Members have said, it has been subject, in different forms including a draft Bill, to wide and on-going consultation. I had the privilege of being a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office for two years, from just after the 1997 election until the end of July 1999. I pay tribute to the work done in that period by the Ministers with whom I worked, including the former Secretary of State and Member for Redcar and my right hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) and for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), for whom I worked directly during the negotiations that secured the Good Friday agreement.

Those two weeks in March 1998 were among the most tiring and exhilarating times in my 35 years in active politics. It was not certain that we would get the agreement. On many occasions there were difficult issues to be dealt with. Books have been written about that, and no doubt there will be many more when people write their memoirs. All the parties present, including the two Governments, had to compromise and come together to secure the agreement. Its wording is very clear. It has been quoted already, so I will not quote it at length. Pages 22 and 23 of the Belfast agreement set out the approach to be followed on policing and justice. There is clear recognition that a complete review of the system was needed; the Bill is the product of that review. All the participants agreed that the principal aims of the criminal justice system were to

My hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has already talked about the concept of parity of esteem. I agree strongly that we should deal with the realities, but we must also recognise that in Northern Ireland—but not just there, as we have the problem in other parts of the UK, but perhaps in less extreme forms—symbolism is, unfortunately, often far more important than reality. There has been talk in our debate about the role of the Queen. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford kept going on about it. He is an interesting man because he is a pro-European who supported the Maastricht treaty; I have shared platforms with him, when he argued in favour of Europe against Eurosceptic Conservatives and others. When he signed up to the Maastricht treaty, he supported the concept of European Union citizenship.

The people of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and the Irish Republic are all European Union citizens, which did not seem to present a problem to the hon. Gentleman in his previous incarnation. Now, however, he has become obsessed, to the point of going over the top, with the language of the review and the report. I recognise, and recent events in north Belfast bring it home to all of us, the need to be careful and make sure that we do not encourage alienation among the Protestant working class communities of Northern Ireland. There is a danger that irresponsible demagogues and people with a criminal agenda will be able to use symbolic

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issues to build support, with the consequence that postal workers will be murdered and other criminal terrorist activity will take place.

We all know that that is not representative of the bulk of society or the bulk of people who call themselves loyalists. Nevertheless, there will be a dangerous situation if gangs of misguided young men carry out attacks because they believe that their identity has been destroyed or will be taken away. Those issues are politically important and account must be taken of them. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister and other Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office will take careful note of the words of the hon. Member for North Down and others who are in favour of the agreement and want it to succeed. It is crucial that those of us throughout the United Kingdom who want harmony, parity of esteem, unity and an end to violence, both strengthen the forces on the ground in Northern Ireland that are in favour of that aim and stand up and undermine the demagogues, whether in the House or in Northern Ireland.

I agree very strongly with the remarks made by a number of hon. Members about the importance of the Policing Board having Sinn Fein members. I also believe that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) suggested, Sinn Fein Members should not be elsewhere in the building, but here in the Chamber to tell us why they refuse to support the reformed police organisations in Northern Ireland. The proposals were set out in the Belfast agreement, to which they signed up and on which they campaigned for a yes vote. It would be good if they were present, so that we could subject them to such questioning. Until the bulk of the Catholic community in all areas in Northern Ireland supports, joins and assists the police, they will not be able to do their job with maximum effectiveness.

The Bill is not about those matters—it relates to other issues—but it is crucial that it is understood in the context of the wider policing and justice aspects of the Belfast agreement. It contains important provisions about youth justice—clauses 57 to 61—and it is welcome that information about discharge of prisoners is to be given to victims in a wider sense. Community safety partnerships at a local level are also important. We have had them throughout England and their quality was variable, but I believe that they are very significant.

Those are all welcome steps forward. I believe that, in time, the Bill will make a big contribution in terms of making life better for ordinary people in all parts of Northern Ireland. I hope that, by building on this process, as well as on the other measures implemented in the past couple of years and the new political processes initiated by the very wise activities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, support will strengthen during the next year for the pro-agreement, pro-co-operation and pro-consensual approach that is favoured by at least some Ulster Unionist Members and also by my hon. Friend the Member for South Down. I hope that, in time, more aspects of normal life will be devolved to the Assembly and to the people of Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, it is important that those of us who live in the rest of the United Kingdom understand that the reality of Northern Ireland and of the issues that are being discussed is not what will feature in the headlines in tomorrow's papers, as it is not about whether certain people have offices—or about the furniture, plants and

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number of filing cabinets in those offices—but about what the ordinary people of Northern Ireland will gain in their day-to-day life from measures taken by this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

8.53 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): In rising to speak in the debate, I fear that I have to say things that hon. Members may not find palatable. None the less, I feel that they must be said. As the Secretary of State said at the outset, the Bill is being brought forward in the context of the Belfast agreement. The right hon. Gentleman also said that it was the biggest overhaul of criminal justice in 30 years.

It sometimes appears to people in Northern Ireland that there is an underlying premise on which Her Majesty's Government and the political institutions in Northern Ireland tackle all issues, whether criminal justice and the improvements to it that we all want, political institutions such as the devolved Assembly, cultural manifestations or parades.

The premise is that there is an inherent imbalance, almost a genetic imbalance, that must be rectified. There is a false, inaccurate and implausible belief that Northern Ireland's inherent Unionism must be diluted to accommodate or satisfy nationalist opinion. That appears to be the case in the Bill, as it was in the Belfast agreement, and in decisions about cultural manifestations and parades. Every major or significant move, for example on emblems and the royal arms outside courthouses, has to be a signal to the nationalist community of a form of neutrality and openness. It has to be an attempt by the Government to bring the nationalist community from the cold into the warm sunshine of an all-embracing Northern Ireland under the agreement.

Before Christmas, the Secretary of State made a comment that my colleagues and I have been making, not for a few weeks or months, not even since the Belfast agreement, but for decades. The only thing that he got wrong was the tense. Northern Ireland is not in danger of becoming a cold place for Unionists; it is and has been a cold place for Unionists for many years because of the underlying premise on which the Bill is based. There is a false belief that nationalism can be accommodated by the removal of symbols.

Although I bow to the Minister's greater experience of the Scottish legal system, I raised in the ad hoc committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly the question of royal symbols outside Scottish courthouses. Nationalist opinion rises and falls in Scotland, and I asked many witnesses whether there was evidence of an attempt by those who represent the nationalist community there to remove the royal symbols from outside courthouses. Every witness said that there was no such move and that they knew of no demand from nationalists in Scotland to remove the insignia from courthouses. Why should there be such a demand in Northern Ireland? Before the criminal justice review was mooted, did any evidence exist to show that there was such a demand?

I saw a false and inaccurate programme last night on national television about the day known as Bloody Sunday. I watched to see if it would refer to a demand for changes to the criminal justice system. There was no such reference. Why? I defy any hon. Member, past or present, to recollect demands by civil rights demonstrators at the

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beginning of the civil disturbances in Northern Ireland for changes to the criminal justice system. I do not recall there being any and, until the review, there was no evidence that the removal of the insignia or the royal coat of arms was a demand being voiced by campaigners.

I take issue with some of the points made by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). He referred to the ad hoc committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, of which I was a member. I attended most of its hearings, put questions to many of the witnesses and spoke at the Northern Ireland Assembly when we were debating these issues. I made the point on every occasion I could that the hard issues that might divide members of the committee, and Members of the Assembly, had not been addressed. We did not grapple with the thorny question of the royal coat of arms outside courthouses. That is why there was a degree of unanimity. I do not mind if people agree to set aside for a time the hard issues that are likely to divide them, to achieve some form of consensus. I do mind, however, if they try to present that course of action as a solution to the many difficult decisions that they face.

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