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10 Feb 2003 : Column 648—continued

Mr. Speaker: The answer to that is no.

Mr. Tyler: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Glenda Jackson: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a genuine request for information.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will hear a point of order from Mr. Tyler.

Mr. Tyler: You referred earlier to the statement made by the Leader of the House, but you will also be aware that within a matter of minutes of him making that statement about the necessity for a debate and a substantive vote in this House, the Secretary of State for Defence, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), said in terms that such a debate might take place after hostilities had begun. In those circumstances, will you consider very carefully any further request for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 if it is likely that hostilities will commence before a substantive debate can be arranged?

Mr. Speaker: I always consider such matters very carefully. I must tell the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) that we have the business of the day—

Glenda Jackson: I have a genuine request for information.

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps we can let the business continue and the hon. Lady can have a discussion with me about that issue.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Unless it is a new matter, I say to the Father of the House—

Mr. Dalyell: You mentioned the business of the day, Mr. Speaker. The business of the day is trivial compared

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to the question of peace and war. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] All right, the business of the day may be important in Northern Ireland for a time, but—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please be seated while I am standing. That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I tell the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

Mr. Dalyell rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am instructing the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I have been very—

Mr. Dalyell rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please be seated. I am instructing the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

Mr. Dalyell rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has tested the patience of the Chair. He must be seated.

Mr. Dalyell rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I tell the Father of the House to resume his seat. I do not want—

Mr. Gummer: Sit down, Tam.

Mr. Dalyell: No.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is treading on very dangerous ground.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Mr. Dalyell: I insist on the parliamentary right to put a point of order—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I insist on my rights as the Speaker, and I tell the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. He must—

Mr. Dalyell: I insist on putting my point of order. In matters of peace and war, the House of Commons—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am in the situation, very reluctantly, that I shall have to tell the hon. Gentleman to withdraw.

Mr. Dalyell: I do not wish to cause you embarrassment, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We now come to the main business—

Mr. Dalyell: If that is what you wish—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.

Mr. Dalyell: The House of Commons is—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

10 Feb 2003 : Column 650

Orders of the Day

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

[Relevant document: the Third Report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, on the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords], HC 233.]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.53 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill provides for further provisions for policing in Northern Ireland and it is by no means an unimportant matter. It will implement the Patten commission and last year's review of policing. It has already gone through the other place, where their lordships considered it in great detail and made some useful amendments for us to consider. I am grateful, too, to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee for its work on the Bill's consequences and matters.

The House is aware that the Belfast agreement laid the foundations for a better future and for lasting peace in Northern Ireland; it is also aware that the institutions of government in Northern Ireland now lie suspended. The Assembly is suspended, as are the north-south bodies and, of course, the Executive who govern Northern Ireland. As a result, the four Northern Ireland Ministers and I must, reluctantly, rule directly in Northern Ireland for the people of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Members for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) made points of order about clashes of parliamentary business. I shall look into the matters that they raised; it was certainly not the Government's intention that there should be a clash or that there should be problems with Commons business. However, they know that the Assembly would have passed 22 Bills during the remaining months of its Session and that, as I have reported to the House on several occasions, those Bills will take the form of orders. There is a time problem with Privy Council approval of the orders, so, although I shall look into the points that were made, the hon. Gentlemen will be aware that the imperative is to ensure that those matters are resolved.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I am grateful for the Secretary of State's reassurance. I do not want to prolong something that is slightly peripheral to the main debate, but does he accept our frustration at the fact that we repeatedly raised those points? The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats can probably cover both items of business effectively, but it will be difficult for the minority parties, especially those from Northern Ireland, to do so. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although a large amount of legislation has to be passed, not so much of it is to be dealt with on the Floor of the House that it will be impossible to stagger measures and allow Members to attend?

Mr. Murphy: I shall, of course, look into the matter, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that the House is doing the work of two Parliaments at present. Our undertakings on the legislation that the Assembly would

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have passed were time constrained. However, I shall look into the points that the hon. Gentleman made and try to ensure that a clash is avoided.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford): Of course, I accept in the good faith in which he made it the Secretary of State's assurance both that there was no intention on the part of the Government that debates on two aspects of Northern Ireland legislation should coincide and that he will look into the matter. I appreciate the full force of the words "look into" when they are spoken by a Minister on the Treasury Bench. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although discharging the role of two Parliaments—as he rightly puts it—is a considerable burden, it really cannot be beyond human ingenuity, let alone the ingenuity of his Whips Office, to find a way of staggering the business so that we can all take part in all the deliberations on Northern Ireland legislation?

Mr. Murphy: Indeed. I share the hon. Gentleman's view of the ingenuity of Whips so we shall see what happens over the next few days. I take the points that both he and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made.

Of course, if it were not for the fact that the Assembly is suspended, we would not have that problem. Our greatest and most important aim is to ensure that the Assembly returns and that there is an Executive in Northern Ireland, with government for the people of Northern Ireland by people from Northern Ireland. That is the Government's aim, and I believe that it is shared by the Taoiseach and the Irish Government. Most significantly, all political parties in Northern Ireland want the restoration of devolution.

Hon. Members will know that the Assembly lies suspended due to the breakdown of trust and confidence between political parties in Northern Ireland. That resulted in several events, which led to the suspension of the institutions. We need to ensure that we tackle the central issue that confronts us: paramilitary activity.

Other issues, too, must be addressed to implement the Belfast agreement in full. The House is aware that, in two days' time, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet at Hillsborough, where they will discuss, individually, with pro-agreement parties how we can overcome the problems and, we hope, ensure that we move forward.

The House also, I believe, needs to be made aware of the events that occurred particularly but not exclusively in Belfast over the past week or so as a result of the loyalist feud, which resulted, unhappily, in the death of members of one side of the feud; they also resulted in members of the other side of the feud fleeing, as they would put it, to Scotland.

The House should be aware that the police have played a uniquely important role in ensuring that those problems are minimised. More than 70 members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland have been exclusively engaged in working on that loyalist feud. There have been 40 arrests, and 20 people have been charged with various offences—attempted murder, conspiracy to murder or possession of firearms with intent.

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I have had a meeting today with the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland. Obviously, we discussed those matters to try to ensure that the weight of the law and the police force fall directly on what is essentially criminality—gangsterism and mobsterism—masquerading as political loyalism.

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