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2 Dec 2002 : Column 652—continued

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Which has been made.

Mr. McCabe: I would like the handing-in of weapons and an end to the violence, too.

David Burnside: If there are convictions of members of Sinn Fein in relation to Colombia, Castlereagh or the present investigation into the spy ring, does that exclude it from the Executive or district policing partnerships?

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Mr. McCabe: Given that none of those matters has yet been determined, it would not advance the situation were I to speculate on it.

To return to what I was saying, there is hope if we adopt an open approach. I am a little bemused by the Democratic Unionist party position—I confess that I always have been, so that is not new for me. As I understand it, however, the DUP is committed to devolution, although it has a tendency to destroy any institution that offers that way forward. In a funny way, it is the mirror image of Sinn Fein, because it is the party that wants to be half-in, half-out. It does not want to take part in any of the broad round-table talks in which movement might occur across the board—it wants back-door meetings with the Prime Minister and others to see if it can advance its case. I do not understand exactly what its problem is. It seems to me that it could make a commitment. It may wish to spend its time in this debate looking for a narrow definition of Xacts of completion", but it could follow the Prime Minister's other statement. It could give the commitment that it is in favour of making the institutions secure and stable. For a party that believes in devolution, that would be an advance on its current position.

On the policing arrangements, I am surprised that the police do not get more credit for what they have achieved. The new chief constable attended the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recently, and my impression is that he has made a first-rate start. He has shown his capacity to deal with both sides. Whether he is dealing with loyalists posing as gangsters or the other way round or whether he is dealing with republican spies, the chap has shown us that he is prepared to do what he was put there to do. We should congratulate him on that.

We should also be pleased by the significant rise in Catholic recruitment to the Police Service. The Select Committee was right to say that that was a major impediment to the performance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Unless measures are taken to tackle that problem, it will take a generation for change to take place. As in keeping with other things that the DUP party would like, I recognise that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) would rather wait a generation for change to take place, but we do not have that time.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee found that the main cause of low Catholic recruitment to what was the RUC was the intimidation of Catholic families and Catholic members of the police force? If that intimidation were to be eradicated and reduced, that, rather than discriminatory recruitment policies, would encourage young Catholics to come forward.

Mr. McCabe: It is true that intimidation was a significant factor, but I do not recall it being the only one. It is also true that the Committee concluded that it probably was not advisable to wait a generation for change. That point must be taken on board.

I want to return to the problem of ex-prisoners. It is pretty clear that such people could not join the district policing partnerships at the present time. However, my understanding is that that is not what is on offer.

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What is on offer is the possibility that, at some point in the future, ex-prisoners may be allowed to join the policing arrangements. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Minister, if we can tolerate ex-prisoners standing for the Assembly and perhaps being part of the Executive if they clearly dissociate themselves from violence and paramilitary means, I can certainly envisage a situation in which ex-prisoners could also play a part in the policing arrangements.

I was bemused by what the hon. Member for North Antrim said about the current legislation, but my understanding is that it requires political and independent members of the district policing partnership to hold office until the next local elections, which are scheduled for May 2005. I therefore do not understand how the change that he fears could occur. There is some provision for additional appointments to be made to the Belfast board, but that is primarily because of issues that relate to the volume of work. The central anxiety may have been exaggerated.

Mr. Hunter : We have sex registers for paedophiles. Their offences are so hideous that they should be remembered. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman explain why there should not be a comparable system for former terrorists who have committed equally horrific crimes?

Mr. McCabe: I understand that the hon. Gentleman has good reason to have strong feelings on this subject. However, if we were to keep registers of all the former terrorists who go on to play a constructive role in active politics across the globe, some people whom we now welcome here as statesmen would not get to play any role in politics whatever. We must be prepared to move on. When people are willing to renounce violence and to use exclusively democratic means, I am prepared to recognise that, and I hope that most people would, too. I would like to see the day when the Assembly and the Executive have the power to control policing in Northern Ireland. That is the day when the people of Northern Ireland will embrace their police force and have faith in it.

6.25 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): It is always interesting to hear the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). Only yesterday I was walking in his constituency, and on the ancient stones of the Giant's Causeway. I was with my friend Ian Morrice, and he asked me what the hon. Gentleman was like. I said that he was indeed honourable and sincere, and held very strong positions that he described extremely clearly. I fear that I was so full of praise for the hon. Gentleman that Ian Morrice, who is planning to marry his fiancée Wendy in December, might invite the hon. Gentleman to conduct the ceremony. In that case, it would most definitely be a marriage made in Antrim.

I have also learned that the hon. Gentleman's opinions are totally internally consistent. What he concludes follows logically from where he starts. I have come to the view that where I differ from him—I do not differ from him on all matters—it is because of his inbuilt assumptions. As others have already acknowledged, the hon. Gentleman and the Democratic Unionist party represent a considerable proportion of

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the Northern Ireland community, who agree with the positions that he takes. For that reason if no other, it is important that we hold our debates with a spirit of respect for the proposals outlined in the motions.

Over the weekend a degree of uncertainty has been thrown over the Northern Ireland peace process. Several newspapers reported that the IRA was poised to announce a series of major moves, including comprehensive decommissioning, but those stories were subsequently denied by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness). The confusion is not surprising, or uncharacteristic of Northern Ireland politics, but it certainly makes today's debate poignant, not least because it forces us to ask questions about the degree to which the Good Friday agreement is central to the process and needs to be fulfilled. The paramilitaries have a significant role in rebuilding the fragile trust that the peace process has needed, which now exists in a slightly eroded form.

Policing in Northern Ireland takes us to the heart of some of the measures in the agreement that the various parties say have not been implemented as was required. However, even here there is a complicating factor. We do not have the luxury of considering completion with regard to policing alone, but must consider the other factors that have been mentioned in the debate. The IRA's alleged spy ring in Stormont, the embarrassing arrests in Colombia, and some of the other issues that have been mentioned, make it clear that we must define an act of completion before it can realistically be achieved.

With all that going on, it is hardly surprising that those sceptics who do not believe that the IRA will lay down its arms for good have to some extent been successful in forcing the suspension that we are faced with at the moment. Suspension was the least worst option, given that collapse was the alternative, but at all times in our discussions we return to questions of policing and to consideration of what the Government and the parties in Northern Ireland have done to make it possible for policing to be reformed so as to create consensus across the communities in Northern Ireland.

We must consider to what extent the DUP's motion should attract support. When the hon. Member for North Antrim defended the words in the motion that say that the DUP does not consider Sinn Fein's representatives

he is making a strong statement. He goes beyond my position, but my assumptions are different at the outset.

I subscribe to the view taken by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), reiterated to a large extent by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). Just because someone has a past does not mean that he cannot have a future. What qualifies Sinn Fein representatives to take their place in a Government in Northern Ireland is partly their ability to lead those who resist participating in the police force, and persist in participating in terrorism, towards a peaceful outcome.

The hon.—and, indeed, reverend—Member for North Antrim knows more than I do about the difference between saints and sinners, but surely no one would suggest that members of Sinn Fein present

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themselves as saints. However, there are leaders who are capable of bringing people towards accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a more appropriate form of policing than the punishment beatings and other forms of intimidation that, sadly, have been used by some to justify the continued armament and organisation of paramilitary forces in both halves of the community.

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