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26 Mar 2003 : Column 331—continued

2.45 pm

It is not good enough to say, "We still have the brake of a statutory instrument", because that is hopelessly inadequate. We know perfectly well that statutory instruments are a disgraceful form of legislation—there is no opportunity to modify them: we are not allowed to modify them. We in Parliament cannot make a sensible judgment on what moves are appropriate in such a delicate and difficult area of policing, and on the structure of supervision by the community, without seeing all the other elements of the package.

We cannot sign a blank cheque and hand it to the Government. We cannot allow the Government to fill in the amount when they feel like it, and then send it off to Sinn Fein-IRA. We must look at the package as a whole. Parliament must use its judgment at the time: it must decide what moves are appropriate, and whether it should accept the new clauses as they are or modify them somewhat. We cannot modify statutory instruments, which provide no security and no reassurance. They are hopeless for our present purposes.

Mr. Paul Murphy: The hon. Gentleman does a great injustice to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords by suggesting that a commencement order

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dealt with by means of an affirmative resolution is worthless. The question of modification would not apply; it is a question of whether the measure should be passed or not. There is only one decision to be made about a commencement order. There is no question of tabling amendments. The only question is "Should this happen?" If the House of Commons and the other place have an opportunity to vote on whether it should happen by way of an affirmative resolution, what is wrong with that?

Mr. Davies: What is wrong is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is irresponsible and absurd to decide this matter on a yes-or-no, black-or-white basis. It may well be appropriate to make some move in response to acts of completion, but we need to decide what move should be made in the light of those acts. We need to be able to see and judge the whole package. The right hon. Gentleman has proved my point, which is that it is impossible to modify any statutory instrument. If we give the new Government their new clauses, we shall have given them a blank cheque: they need only fill in the date and send it off when they please.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Is it not amazing that this of all days should have been chosen for the debate? At the weekend, a cache of arms was found in the Ormeau road area in Belfast. The police are adamant that they are Provisional IRA arms, not dissident arms, and they are not old but brand new. According to experts, they were brought in after the ceasefires rather than before. Now we are having this debate.

As I said in our original debate, it is amazing that we should have a Government Bill on one hand and, on the other hand, the proposals of an armed organisation that has caused mayhem and murder in a part of the United Kingdom. Is this timing not also amazing?

Mr. Davies: It is indeed amazing—and I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, for in doing so I gave him the chance to make a point that I was going to make myself. I agree with him 100 per cent. In fact, I was about to mention the arms cache.

There has been no action whatever from Sinn Fein-IRA to justify the Government's proposals, which are very regrettable. They would have given the wrong signal even had the latest events not occurred. Over the last few days, however, we have seen not just an absence of necessary acts of completion, but prima facie evidence—I put it no more strongly than that, but the hon. Gentleman described it accurately, at least as far as we know from newspaper reports—of a serious breach of the ceasefire and the Belfast agreement. In my view, the Government should respond to such a situation not by offering concessions, half-concessions or conditional concessions—that is how the right hon. Gentleman wants us to understand the situation—but by introducing sanctions, or at least conditional sanctions.

If I were Secretary of State, rather than shadow Secretary of State, I would simply suspend all these clauses, go ahead with the Bill and say that, given this latest arms cache, under no circumstances can we begin to discuss the possibility of including in DPPs people with convictions for serious crimes. Here, we have in mind former terrorists from perhaps both sides; however, given that the Government have introduced

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this provision as a result of pressure from Sinn Fein-IRA, we are talking about the inclusion of former IRA terrorists in DPPs.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; in doing so, he proves that he is, as ever, a reasonable man. Does he agree that it is most regrettable that a Government who are so wedded to full implementation of the Patten report are moving away from its clear recommendation that independent members should bring with them an expertise in community safety? The report in no way recommends bringing in independent members who have criminal or terrorist convictions. Why are the Government now cherry-picking their way through the Patten report?

Mr. Davies: I hope that the hon. Lady manages to ask that question directly of the Secretary of State, because it was really addressed to him. She makes a very good point. She knows the Patten report backwards—indeed, it seems that she must recite it in her bath—and she manages always to quote it pertinently and accurately. She is absolutely right, and I understand that she is introducing proposals along the lines of the Patten report. They involve including in DPPs people with community, trade union and other backgrounds, and they reflect the report in a way that the Government's proposals do not. Apparently, the Government are not interested in appeasing respectable law-abiding, hard-working and devoted community leaders, trade unions or anyone else in Northern Ireland. They are engaged, I am sorry to say, in the appeasement of Sinn Fein-IRA, and that is the only reason why these clauses have been introduced at the moment.

This is appeasement—I do not resile from that word. Not to be prepared to make concessions in the context of an agreed package, and to introduce these proposals in advance, even though the other side is treating one with contempt, constitutes appeasement. What is required, in the light of the discovery in the past few days of an arms cache, is a signal of seriousness and severity—or potential severity—from the Government. Instead, the Government seem to be straining at the leash to offer new concessions, which is quite wrong. They should actually be leaning back at this point and saying to Sinn Fein "This is one more nail in the coffin of the peace process and you are responsible for it. What are you doing to redress the damage that you've done through this new apparent breach of the ceasefire? It is up to you to make a move." Instead, the Government are proposing to make a move.

The process is the wrong way round. I do not know whether I can get this across to the Government, but this is a very serious matter. I thought that they had accepted the general point about the necessity of reciprocity in their tactics. I am sorry to say that this has been a very disappointing case of backsliding away from what I thought was a commitment to a more sensible path.

On the new clauses and related amendments, I can give the right hon. Gentleman one piece of good news, which is that we have no objection to new clause 1 and we are happy for it to proceed. New clause 2, however, we will oppose for all the reasons that I have given. I should emphasise that there are very strong and

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respectable reasons for opposing it on substance; however, the main issue is the foolishness of the tactic of making this offer now, and the way in which it has been done. We feel particularly strongly about that.

The right hon. Gentleman says that he will implement this new clause and the other clauses to which we object only when he feels that sufficient progress has been made on the peace process, and only via statutory instrument. I am afraid to say that the signal that he sends in introducing the measures through primary legislation is at the moment completely wrong. I do not accept his excuse that there is no alternative because of the way in which the parliamentary calendar works. It is up to him to stand up to the Leader of the House—when we have one—and his Chief Whip, and to make it clear that other ways must be explored. What is at stake is so important that we cannot afford to make tactical errors, even given the excuse of pressure on parliamentary time. It is perfectly possible to put this Bill to one side and to bring it to its conclusion later in the Session, if we feel that it is sensible to do so. Alternatively, we could allow it to proceed as it emerged from Standing Committee, and if necessary introduce emergency legislation—we would support doing so in the circumstances that I have described—to deal with additional matters before the end of the Session. On the other hand, if the peace process takes longer to reach its consummation, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman could persuade his colleagues to find room for a new police Bill in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps he would like to say whether he is prepared to support such emergency legislation, if there is a genuine basis for it, later in the Session, so as to show how unnecessary and unconvincing the right hon. Gentleman's excuse is.

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