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2 Dec 2002 : Column 646—continued

Jane Kennedy: When we undertook to examine how we could deal with the question of the disqualification from joining DPPs applying to former prisoners, it was in the context that Sinn Fein would support the new beginning to policing, but it failed to do that. We are now discussing a new set of circumstances in which it would not only support that new beginning but take the other enormous steps that we have debated. We believe that, in that context, it would be entirely appropriate to discuss the changes to legislation that we have proposed.

Mr. Davies: Northern Ireland Office Ministers have demonstrated in recent weeks that they understand some interlinkage and contingency that are essential in this process, and there is no doubt that the way in which they have proposed changing the legislation is far better than the way in which they would have done it just a few months ago. To that extent, they have learned the lessons of the disappointments of the past four and a half years, and of course I welcome that.

The Secretary of State was clearly in a difficult position, because the Government's legislative programme was in place before he assumed his new responsibilities. It would have been difficult for him to go back to first base, although that might have been desirable. He has presented a Bill with some proposals on policing, while the Government are publicising other proposals so that people can discuss them and understand that they might be enacted if certain conditions are fulfilled—they are contingent on certain Xacts of completion" by Sinn Fein.

I welcome that element of conditionality and contingency, which is exactly what I have been calling for for a year. Congratulations. I am very happy. However, it is unfortunate that this is only a partial learning of the lesson. If the Minister of State thinks through the logic of what she and her colleagues have done, she will see that everything should have been contingent, because there are so many issues involved,

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quite apart from policing, including decommissioning, the military presence in Northern Ireland and the restoration of the institutions in Stormont. Those issues are all linked and it would be a frightful mistake to take any one element and say that we can deal with it separately or legislate on it in advance, before a comprehensive settlement is put together. That would be to limit the Government's flexibility and give away some of their limited currency for nothing in return, which is a foolish tactic in any context. Reducing flexibility would also make it harder for other parties to come up with imaginative solutions.

In my view, the Government are about a quarter of the way in the right direction on tactics after four and a half years. I do not know whether that is an encouraging situation, although it is certainly more encouraging than if there had been no progress at all. It is still a long way from the concerted, strategic thinking that we need to handle a peace process as complicated and as important as the one that we have in Northern Ireland.

5.56 pm

Mr. John Hume (Foyle): I entirely agree with the Government's assertion in the amendment that we have made substantial progress in creating peace on our streets. There is no doubt that the atmosphere is totally transformed from what it was a few years ago, but a 300-year quarrel—the past 30 years have been about the worst—is not healed in a week or a fortnight. There is no instant solution; there is a healing process, and what is required is a framework for that process. We have that in the Good Friday agreement. The healing process is under way, and there is no doubt about that. For the first time in our history—the importance of this has been underestimated—the people of Ireland as a whole, north and south—

Rev. Ian Paisley: Aha.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): Not again.

Mr. Hume: Yes, this is important. This is only the second time I have said this, and the hon. Members did not even bother to listen to me the first time.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Hume: Yes, there should be order over there.

For the first time ever, the people of the north and the south voted overwhelmingly on how they wished to live together. It is the duty of all true democrats throughout Ireland to implement the will of the people. That vote sent a clear message to the IRA. Historically, it has always said that it is acting in the name of the Irish people. If it now wants to do that, there must be a complete and absolute end to its violence, which it is clearly working towards, and more importantly, it must end its existence as a paramilitary organisation and devote its energies to building a new and peaceful society. [Interruption.]

That vote also sent out a challenge to Unionists who oppose the agreement because, also for the first time in history, the whole of nationalist Ireland accepts the

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principle of consent, which is a fundamental principle of Unionism: that there can be no change in Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people. [Interruption.] It is no good saying that the principle of consent works only when one agrees with it. If the Good Friday agreement, which the people voted for, is brought down, it will be necessary for the two Governments to work together alone to solve the problem—and where might that leave the Unionists? It is the duty of all of us to implement the will of the people, and that means implementing the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects.

The first principle of the agreement is respect for difference, and who can disagree with that? There is no victory for either side in the agreement; there is total respect for both identities. The second principle involves institutions that respect those differences—a proportionally elected Assembly, and all sections are there, and a proportionally elected Government in Northern Ireland, and all sections are there.

The third principle—the healing process—is that the representatives of all sections should work together in our common interests, which does not involve waving flags at one another, but the real politics: social and economic development and, as I always say, spilling our sweat together, not our blood. As we work together, we will break down the barriers of the past and a new society will evolve based on agreement and respect for difference. That is the challenge that faces all people who truly want to solve this problem, but those who want to play Rangers versus Celtic matches all the time and are looking for victory will never solve anything by continuing down the road that they are taking.

6.1 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and I wish to draw attention to the loss of morale that has occurred in the Police Service of Northern Ireland in very recent years, but before I do so I want to respond to some of the issues raised regarding the statistics on violence.

The Minister referred to the level of violence that existed in the early 1970s. I often hear Government spokespersons, from the Prime Minister downwards, referring to the vast improvement that there has been in Northern Ireland, and they compare it to the early 1970s. With that comparison, they will get no disagreement from us. More than 400 people were killed in the early 1970s and significantly fewer people are being killed now, but the point is that the number of people being killed in the middle 1990s was declining year on year, until we had the Belfast agreement.

Mr. Tom Harris: Would the hon. Gentleman contradict the figures that show that, in the three years leading up to the signing of the Good Friday agreement, 343 people lost their lives as a result of terrorist activities and that, in the three years following that agreement, the figure was 53?

Mr. Campbell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The figures from the chief constable's report show that, in each of the three years before the agreement and the three years since, the statistics in

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relation to bombings, shootings, kidnappings and explosives all show not just marginal increases of 5, 10 or 20 per cent., but increases of 100 per cent. and, in some cases, 300 per cent., so violence is increasing when compared with the period immediately before the agreement.

I want to make it clear that this is a comparison not of Northern Ireland in 2002 with Northern Ireland in 1972, but of Northern Ireland today with Northern Ireland immediately before the Belfast agreement. With that comparison, there should be no dispute and no argument. The statistics show that more people are being injured and shot, that more bombs are being planted and that more violence is occurring now than before the agreement. There ought to be no dispute or argument about that.

I now want to move on to police morale. The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to police recruitment, and I have to raise that issue again. Whenever we in Northern Ireland have a merit principle for police recruitment, every member of each law-abiding community is quite content and is prepared to support that recruitment principle because it is based on merit. So the best-qualified people, irrespective of their religion or politics, are recruited to become police officers to combat crime. Unfortunately, because of the Government's insistence on the 50:50 rule, we are not getting that. Instead, hundreds of people from the Unionist community who are suitably qualified, law abiding and want a career in policing are being told that they cannot have that career because of their religion. That is abominable, and it ought to be detested and opposed by every Member.

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