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10 Feb 2003 : Column 665—continued

Mr. Murphy: Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he will support the Bill? He told us that he would not go into the Division Lobbies to vote against it, but is he in favour of it? As far as proxies are concerned, my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) gave a very good proxy on behalf of the Government and the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) did not do a bad job either. The hon. Gentleman himself gave a marvellous proxy on behalf of the Government in relation to the 50:50.

Mr. Davies: I am sorry that, to score a point, the Secretary of State suggests that 50:50 is a party political issue. The right hon. Gentleman should welcome bipartisanship on that. We support it because we believe in it; it is the right approach. When we believe that the Government are doing the right thing, we support them. When we believe that they are doing the wrong or dangerous thing, we disagree with them and try to head them off. As he knows, I do not agree with the Government's tactics or substantive proposals on many matters. However, when I agree with them, I am happy to support them.

Mr. Murphy: We want to find out exactly what the hon. Gentleman believes. Does he oppose or support the Bill? Is he simply indifferent to it? Hon. Members do not know.

Mr. Davies: They will know when I finish my speech. However, if the right hon. Gentleman is becoming impatient, he can have a preview.

We would not have introduced such a Bill now. It is unnecessary and undesirable when a police Bill was enacted so recently. As the Secretary of State admitted, further police legislation will be necessary. Clauses of a measure that make concessions not to the SDLP but to Sinn Fein have already been published. Will a third, fourth or fifth Bill be introduced? Will he present measures to assuage the anxieties of the Democratic Unionist party, to bring the loyalists on board or to help the nationalists or republicans with some problem? Will the Police Service of Northern Ireland simply become a ball that the Government toss endlessly between the different Northern Ireland parties? I sincerely hope not. That is the wrong approach. I shall argue shortly for a different approach to the peace process.

However, the Bill exists. The Government did a deal with the SDLP whereby the SDLP supported the Policing Board and the new police service and got the concessions. If we voted against the Bill and thus killed it—I like to believe that we would be so eloquent that we could persuade a majority of hon. Members to vote against it—we would deliver a humiliating blow to the SDLP on the eve of important elections on 1 May. We do not wish to do that. We shall therefore not take a view tonight.

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We shall allow the measure to progress to its next stages, and table substantive amendments to try to make it more justifiable and more directly able to deal with the problems of policing in Northern Ireland. If we achieve substantial success, we will support the Bill on Third Reading. If not, we may vote against it. We shall see what happens. I hope that that satisfies the Secretary of State.

The Government increasingly gave the game away this afternoon by conceding that the Bill contains no substantial provisions that policing in Northern Ireland requires. The Secretary of State spoke about the Patten report and the 2001 implementation plan. When the Government were taxed with similar criticisms in another place, they continually referred to the report and the plan. However, the implementation plan does not answer the question or get us any further. It is simply a statement by the Government. It amounts to the Government justifying what they say today on the grounds that they said the same thing yesterday. It is tautologous. It adds nothing to the argument for the measure's legitimacy or credibility. However, it betrays the Government's true purposes, which I have already revealed. The Bill is a political measure that reflects the commitments that the Government made at Weston Park. I do not know why they could not say that instead of leaving me to make the analysis. They know that what I said is true. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) implicitly acknowledged that. Why therefore do not the Government have the courage and frankness to tell hon. Members the truth and the genuine reason for the measure? They would have gained in dignity and hon. Members would have gained in understanding if that had happened at the outset.

The 2000 Act—the "Mandelson Act"—was intended to implement Patten in a way that would minimise the affront to Unionists. It did, of course, affront them greatly by abolishing the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and in other ways. Now the Government are presenting another Bill to deliver on the promises that they made to the SDLP. There is, I think, a fear that this method of legislating for policing in Northern Ireland has no natural end, and that we shall see an endless series of police Bills occurring every year or so, each addressing a different group and trying to provide some of its desiderata.

That, as I have told the Government many times, is a hopeless way of proceeding. We have a better idea, which we have suggested to the Government. I suggested it to them long before the present Secretary of State took his post. We have always proposed a single, global, comprehensive negotiation with all the parties on the implementation of the Belfast agreement and on all points outstanding, followed by the implementation of a single, final package. That package would have to include policing—and, no doubt, a police Bill, but one alone, one that would stand the test of time, and one to which all could sign up without feeling that it had been designed merely to deliver a specific set of concessions to a particular party.

The Bill clearly cannot meet the first test that I identified at the beginning of my speech, namely whether it contributes usefully to policing in Northern Ireland. It was not even designed to undergo that test. It can be judged only on the second criterion—whether it is relevant and helpful to the peace process. I intend to devote the rest of my speech to that second issue.

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As the House knows, we are at one with the Government on the objective in Northern Ireland—the objective of peace and normalisation. We are at one with them in believing that the Belfast agreement provides the best, perhaps the only, basis for that peace and normalisation. Our differences with the Government, which have at times been radical, have related to tactics, important as tactics are.

I say "have". I use the past tense optimistically, because I retain the hope that the Government may finally come round to our point of view, not so much because of our eloquence in advocating it—although I hope that we are eloquent—but because of the even greater eloquence of the facts: the even greater eloquence, sadly, of the serious reverses that the Government's tactical errors have brought to the peace process over the past five years.

Let me be clear about what the Government's essential error has been. It has been to neglect the intrinsic interlinkage of all the issues involved in the process. Those issues are IRA decommissioning and disbandment—I do not accept the euphemism "acts of completion"; let us be candid and clear—loyalist decommissioning and disbandment, demilitarisation, the end of expulsions and beatings, the future of law and order, policing, justice for victims, arrangements for ex-prisoners, amnesties, human rights Bills and all the rest. All those are inextricably linked.

When I used the word "interlinkage" in the days of the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid)—I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for this—he would jump to his feet and explicitly reject the use and appropriateness of the term. He was, in my view, entirely wrong to reject the concept of interlinkage, and I believe that it was because the Government rejected that concept and did not perceive the essential interdependability of all the elements in Northern Ireland that they made many of the mistakes that they made.

David Burnside: Would the hon. Gentleman include in this inextricable linking of all the circumstances and facts from violence to non-violence what is now known as Stormontgate—the activities of a spy ring at the very heart of the institutions of Government of the United Kingdom? Should not any political party involved in that, and convicted of any offence, be excluded from the executive of the process?

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman knows that I think such parties should have been excluded from the institutions, because I argued that very strongly at the time. Not only that, but last July, well before we knew about Stormontgate, I had said that because the Government had completely failed to react to the various abuses and breaches of the ceasefire and agreement that had already occurred, there would inevitably be more. I said that they should take powers to deal with that by being able to exclude from the power-sharing Executive—on the decision of the Secretary of State, not by putting forward a motion in the Assembly—a party in breach of, or in concert with parties in breach of, the ceasefire and agreement. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who took a major part in our debates, will recall my saying that in July.

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Had the Government accepted my advice in July, they would have had that power to exclude a party in breach when Stormontgate was revealed last autumn. That would have enabled them to target the guilty rather than dismantling the whole structure of devolution, targeting everybody—innocent and guilty—and bringing about the present crisis.

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