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Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call another Member, let me ask for calm. I well understand the difficult situation and the emotions that we feel about Northern Ireland, but I ask for calm.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): There was one sentence in the statement with which I particularly agreed. The Secretary of State said,

I think it would be a very good thing if there were frankness, openness, honesty and transparency in the Government's approach. In particular, although it is an uncomfortable fact for him, the Secretary of State must understand and appreciate that there is and will be no credibility—certainly in the Unionist community—in any judgment by any Secretary of State on whether there has or has not been a breach of the ceasefire. If such judgments are to be credible, we definitely need another mechanism. The Secretary of State has hinted that there may be one. A provision is essential to introduce an objective element, and to enable an audit of paramilitary activity to be conducted at regular intervals. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to propose such a provision as a matter of urgency.

The Secretary of State told the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that in the event of a breach of the ceasefire by the IRA he would use his power to require the Assembly to consider a motion for the exclusion of Sinn Fein. I want the Secretary of State to reiterate that, and indeed to link it, as he should, with matters that he mentioned in his statement. He said that

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he would give particular weight to any substantiated information that a paramilitary organisation was training, targeting, or acquiring or developing arms or weapons. I ask him for a clear, unequivocal undertaking that if there is substantiated information about such activities, he will send the Assembly a motion of that kind to consider.

How many police officers have had to be relocated under the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme because of a terrorist threat arising out of the Castlereagh incident? How many have been relocated in the past couple of months? Is the figure not now well over 100? Were they not relocated because there was substantiated information on targeting? I ask the Secretary of State to respond specifically to that.

On police numbers, is it not for the Secretary of State to decide on the future of the full-time police reserve? Will he give an undertaking that, if he gets a request from the Chief Constable and from the Policing Board, to prolong the full-time police reserve, he will immediately and unequivocally respond positively to that request and continue the police reserve? I am fairly confident that he will get such a request.

Dr. Reid: The right hon. Gentleman asks four questions. I will take them in reverse order.

Precisely because I ultimately have the decision on the full-time reserve, I cannot say that I will always do everything that I am asked by the Policing Board. If the police and the Policing Board agree on a given course of action, I, as Secretary of State, would extremely rarely take exception to that action. That has applied in every instance that I can think of since the Policing Board was formed. I see no reason why there would be imminent exceptions to it. I hope that that gives the right hon. Gentleman some reassurance on the way in which I would view any recommendations from the Policing Board.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of police officers. He will forgive me if I cannot give him an exact number—I will write to him. I can say only that I think he is around the right mark. The last figures I heard were around 90, but they may have moved up to over 100. There is a range of reasons, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct: they are directly related not to substantiated evidence but to the main line of inquiry that has been followed into the break-in at Castlereagh and the—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) is keen to speak. I am keen not to respond to all his sedentary comments. If he will encapsulate them in a question, I will respond to him.

The issue is connected with the line that has been pursued by the police. The major line of inquiry remains that the break-in was committed by republicans.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me two other questions, one on the ceasefires and the other on sanctions. On the ceasefires, I think that I have been as plain as I can today in outlining the circumstances under which these judgments are made. They have to be made in the round. By definition, they have to take account of information, sometimes information that has been upgraded to intelligence—there is a difference. Sometimes, for very obvious reasons, that information cannot be made public because it would put other lives at risk.

Obviously, a number of unforeseen factors have to be taken into account, but I have made it plain today, lest any clarification were needed or anyone were under any

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illusions, that I will take into account subjects such as targeting, weapons acquisition, development and the others that I outlined.

If there were evidence that a ceasefire had been broken, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I would be prepared to put a motion, as I am empowered to do by this House, before the Assembly. I have said that in those cases my general aim is to let the institutions flourish, to give them stability—that is my purpose; I am sure it is the right hon. Gentleman's too—but obviously the breach of an IRA ceasefire would constitute very grave circumstances indeed. Under the Belfast agreement it is for the Assembly to decide who sits in the Executive, but I am empowered by Parliament to require the Assembly to consider the relevant motion on the holding of ministerial office. In circumstances in which I decided that the IRA had broken the ceasefire, I would be ready to use that power, and to place such a motion before the Assembly to require it to address the matter.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): Many Labour Members will have welcomed the statements—made in measured terms—by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. In particular, we welcome the fact that not many new hoops have been created for pro-agreement parties to jump through to prove their bona fides. Will the Secretary of State explain what he means when he talks about "local political initiatives"? Are they coupled with his writing to the parties, and has he considered asking them individually—and collectively—to meet him to discuss how stalling can be prevented, and how they can co-operate to show the great advantages that have been achieved in Northern Ireland as a result of the agreement?

Dr. Reid: Yes, the two things are separate. It is not the only action that we are taking, but I thought that, in view of the debate and discussion that has occurred, the simplest way to begin was to write to everyone, asking them to offer reassurances in unequivocal language about their commitment to the principles on which they entered into the agreement.

My hon. Friend also mentioned trying to get local politicians, particularly at the interfaces, to establish a structured partnership or process, so that there are fewer surprises, earlier warnings and attempts to restrain both communities. That is a political local initiative, which I have asked the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), to undertake. He began that process several days ago. It will be long and difficult because, whenever acts of violence are committed—whether here or in other difficult conflicts abroad—it is difficult to get people to speak to each other. However, it is worth undertaking that process. A level of good will exists on the ground among all the parties, and I hope that all parties that have committed to seeing the peace process work will be involved.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Will the Secretary of State accept the Liberal Democrats' continuing and, as I hope he will agree, consistent support—as a critical friend, but a supporter all the same—for the Good Friday agreement and the Government's sincere efforts to try to make the peace process work? Does it not strike him as curious that the Conservatives are taking such a hard line,

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given that their time in government proved unequivocally that they made significant progress only when they showed considerable flexibility in terms of their public comments and private actions?

Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent outbreak of violence and the deterioration of the situation in Northern Ireland should concern us all? He said that six deaths were too many, but I am sure that he will agree that one is too many, and that to that extent we have urgent and pressing business to attend to. Although it is of course sensible to deploy police and Army resources in areas of greatest difficulty and stress, does he accept that doing so nevertheless puts particular strain on those forces, particularly the police, who feel overstretched in other areas? Is he willing to listen to further representations—I know that he has already received some—about the police's resourcing requirements, in order to maintain overall and normal, as we might call it, policing of Northern Ireland in these difficult times?

Does the Secretary of State accept that, although there is always a strong case for increasing police powers, bail arrangements and so on, simply increasing the reach of the law will not in itself directly address the problem? In effect, it deals with the symptoms but not the underlying cause. Will he consider the fact that dialogue in the local communities of which he spoke is much more likely to address attitudinal difficulties? In the eyes of many who are motivated by those views, and the individuals who promote violence, the answer lies much more in the local communities, which are not being listened to, than in simply increasing the reach of the law.

On racketeering, will the Secretary of State consider increasing resources to prevent organised crime—for example, the ongoing haemorrhaging that is affecting the legal fuel industry in Northern Ireland as a result of illegal racketeering from the south, which unquestionably does, in large part, fund the paramilitary activities that he has been describing? Will he acknowledge, as I have, that the IRA statement—the so-called apology—limited though it was, was nevertheless an important statement? Does he agree that there are grounds for reciprocity in de-escalating a situation that has remained tense with little variation since the signing of the Good Friday agreement?

In that context, does the Secretary of State agree that trust and responsibility are extremely important, not only in this House but among the parties in Northern Ireland and that hon. Members have a responsibility not to destabilise the situation by trying to score cheap or opportunistic party political points? [Interruption.] If no party is guilty of that, why did Conservative Members start shouting when I made that point?

Finally, the Secretary of State said that he had written to the political parties in Northern Ireland to secure their commitment to the principles that he outlined. Would it be possible for him to share a copy of the generic letter that he sent to them? Fundamentally, does he agree that the letter and the response will have real teeth only if people and organisations in Northern Ireland are clear that they are not able to push this matter indefinitely and beyond unspecified parameters? In that context—

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