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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?
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
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 Parliamentsas he rightly puts itis 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 offencesattempted murder, conspiracy to murder or possession of firearms with intent.
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 criminalitygangsterism and mobsterismmasquerading as political loyalism.