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26 Mar 2003 : Column 349—continued

David Burnside (South Antrim): Will my right hon. Friend give some clarification on a reference in the Bill and the new clauses—I am making a non-party political point—and explain why we constantly refer in the House to paramilitary organisations and do not define such bodies by referring to them as terrorist organisations?

Mr. Trimble: I suppose that we could refer to proscribed organisations, as almost all such organisations are proscribed under emergency legislation. Strictly speaking and in legal terms, that would be a more effective way of referring to them. We are in no doubt about what we mean by paramilitary organisations, although the meaning of the term "paramilitary" has changed over the years. I remember that 30 or 40 years ago—oh dear, it is as long as that—the term "paramilitary organisation" included the cadet and youth organisations of Her Majesty's forces. Indeed, I was a proud member of one of those organisations for many years. In those days, I would have been proud to call myself a member of a paramilitary organisation, but today, we would be very reluctant to use that phrase. That shows how the terminology has changed.

Of the new clauses that we have tabled, the one that we regard as the most significant and appropriate in the present context is new clause 11. For that reason, we want to press that new clause when you, Madam Deputy Speaker, consider it appropriate for us to do so.

I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House. I have said that we consider the Government new clauses wrong in principle. We also endorse the argument that they are wrong in practice and from a tactical point of view. In that respect, we are happy to adopt almost in its entirety the mantra of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford , although we will spare the House its repetition.

Mr. Peter Robinson: I am sure that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) will forgive me if I do not follow on from him directly on the issue that he raised, although in respect of his reference to the DUP new clause, he may find that my view is not too far from the one that he expressed—a point that I shall explain when I deal with that new clause.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman, however, that he cannot, Pilate-like, attempt to wash his hands of the trend that is evident in policing legislation. It was started

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by the Belfast agreement. He gave the Patten commission its remit and his party spokesman welcomed the appointment of Chris Patten and said that it represented progress, that Patten was a suitable person to carry out the task, and that a better commission could not have been appointed. After his giving the remit and welcoming the personnel involved, I think that the result was always going to be fairly clear. It would be rather synthetic for anyone to suggest that the outcome in the shape of Patten or what has directly flowed from the report could have been anything of a surprise to him.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robinson: It is dangerous, but I will do so.

Lady Hermon: I am quite prepared to take on the danger, and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's giving way. He will know very well that approximately 75 or 80 per cent. of the Patten recommendations were taken from the internal fundamental review of the RUC, which was agreed unanimously by the RUC, as it was then, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland and the other representative bodies. It is therefore mischievous to say that the Patten proposals somehow came out of the blue, as the vast majority of them had the blessing of the RUC's internal fundamental review.

Mr. Robinson: I need hardly specify how facile that argument is. Ninety-nine per cent. of the Patten report could have been perfectly acceptable yet 1 per cent. could corrupt the lot. As it happens, the figure is much greater than 1 per cent. A new training college and better IT for the police does not mean that we should welcome the Patten report. When one considers it "in the round", to use a favourite expression of a previous Secretary of State, it is abundantly clear that its thrust and burden were destructive to the police and ended by destroying the RUC.

If I can feel sorry for a political party, I feel sorry for the SDLP. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has, as always, put a brave face on matters. He spoke eloquently from the SDLP position. However, let us consider the dilemma that the Government's intention has created for the SDLP. It took a political risk in deciding that, for the good of its community and the community as a whole, its members would take up places on the Policing Board and support the police in Northern Ireland. It was clear that its members would get it in the neck from Sinn Fein-IRA.

I was not privy to the SDLP's discussions with the Government. However, having been in negotiations with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, I would be surprised if he did not look a Secretary of State in the eye and say, "Look chap, if we sign up for this, you're not going to sell us out further down the road and make more concessions to the IRA and Sinn Fein, who are holding back. Wouldn't we look silly if, having given our agreement now, you make further concessions to Sinn Fein and show we were wrong to agree to a lesser package?" I should be surprised if the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and his colleagues had not uttered words to that effect to the Secretary of State or Government representatives.

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The SDLP gave its approval and its members performed their role on the Policing Board. Sinn Fein members went around the country, lambasting the SDLP in all the nationalist areas and suggesting that it had betrayed the cause. The SDLP took a stand in its areas for the position that it had adopted. What did the Government do?

Mr. Mallon: The hon. Gentleman misses a central point. We did not make our decision until after Weston Park. I have put statements about the Bill on record in terms of the agreement at Weston Park. The information is in the public domain on page 11 of the implementation plan. We were fully aware of the Bill and the provisions in the next batch of Government amendments and new clauses when we made our decision. That is the fault line in the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Mr. Robinson: It is difficult to get the hon. Gentleman's statement to add up. Given what the Secretary of State describes as his openness and candour with the people of Northern Ireland and hon. Members, he would be in a difficult position if he had agreed the package at Weston Park but waited all this time before apprising them of the Government's intentions.

The package makes concessions to the IRA; nobody in Northern Ireland has any doubt about that. The sensitivity of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh derives from it. Sinn Fein will undoubtedly gloat, not only because we are focusing on such matters. It is right that hon. Members focus on them, because they clearly show that the Government are prepared to make concessions to the IRA beyond those that they said publicly—in many different contexts, which I shall mention later—that they would make in advance of acts of completion. The Government, however, are prepared to introduce this Bill now, in a headlong rush to facilitate the IRA; they appear to be putty in the hands of the provisional movement.

4.15 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned that the Government would undoubtedly be embarrassed by the timing of the Bill, because it comes at a time when the Provisional IRA has once again been smoked out. The significant arms find on the Ormeau road shows that it had weapons that were neither hidden deep in its bunkers nor ready to be decommissioned; these were new weapons that it had brought into an area in which it was intending to use them, since its so-called ceasefire. Those guns were not being stored away in a stockpile; they were ready to use. At the same time as this embarrassing revelation has come to light, the Secretary of State is tabling proposals to bring the representatives of that organisation into a role in which they would have authority in policing the community of Northern Ireland. That scenario is so preposterous that even Alice in Wonderland would have had great difficulty in coming to terms with it.

David Burnside: Will the hon. Gentleman further inform the House that the location of the finding of those weapons and explosives in the Lower Ormeau road is one of the most dangerous interfaces in Northern

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Ireland, during what is now called—I do not like the term—the marching season? Does he agree that, in recent years, there has been deliberate planning by the republican movement to provoke sectarian confrontation, especially when parades by the loyal institutions are coming down that road? It is very worrying to imagine what was being planned for this summer.

Mr. Robinson: I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will understand the message that the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) is giving the House. The Ormeau road has been a significant area, in which the Provisional IRA has attempted to exert a grip on the local community. There are dangerous interface areas in that vicinity, and I believe that the Secretary of State will know what the Provisional IRA's intentions were, so far as those weapons are concerned.

We also have to remember the backcloth against which the Secretary of State is introducing the Bill. He is doing so in a post-suspension period. We are told that the suspension was brought about by the bad behaviour of the IRA. We do not need to catalogue the breaches of its ceasefire, but the culmination was the discovery of a spy ring, right inside the office of the Secretary of State. That had such an impact that the institutions were suspended. The natural conclusion that every one of us drew from the suspension was that the momentum to remove the cause of the problem would place a burden on the IRA and Sinn Fein to make some concessions. What we have found out from the Secretary of State, however, is that the onus appears to be on the Government to make concessions to Sinn Fein and the IRA. Will he at least understand that the community that I represent feels a total sense of injustice that, when it is the IRA that should be divvying up, it is the Government who are once again jumping first?

In the new clauses, the Secretary of State is dealing with issues that the Government had clearly said were to be brought to the House only in exceptional circumstances. That is not only my understanding; the Secretary of State also knows it to be true. He knows that it was never the Government's intention to introduce these additional clauses unless there had been acts of completion by the Provisional IRA, after which he would then introduce them. No one in the House was in any doubt that that was to be the sequence of events. Indeed, if anybody was in doubt about that, it must have been the Minister of State, who is sitting beside the Secretary of State. She came to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and made the Government's position abundantly clear.

I shall quote the Select Committee minutes of evidence from 12 December 2002, when the Chairman very properly introduced the issue. The Minister said:

Following the Chairman's intervention, she said:

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Again, the sequence and what the Government are saying are clear: the Minister's action would come after the response of Sinn Fein, which, of course, we have not had.

The Chairman then very properly asked this question:

The Minister replied:

So the draft clauses would be brought before the House after the Government had seen the acts of completion from the IRA, but again, we have not seen them.

The Chairman, still pursuing the issue, said:

The Minister said, "That is right." Very clearly, she left the Committee with more than the impression—it was given the explicit understanding—that there was no intention to introduce these new clauses until there had been acts of completion.

Why has that changed? Simply because the IRA has given the Secretary of State a hoop through which he has to jump. Once again, the Government are prepared, up front, to make concessions to the IRA before they see the colour of the IRA's money. The sleight of hand that the Secretary of State is using on this occasion is to say, "Yes, we are putting this in the legislation, but it will come into force only at the foot of an order, which will be placed before the House."

I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland are really impressed by that safeguard, knowing full well that the Government have a significant majority—one so strong that they can pass measures that their own Back Benchers are not happy about. It is abundantly clear that if it is the Secretary of State's will that the House approve the order, the House will approve it. There will be no second-guessing the issue.

I suggest, therefore, that the safeguard that the Secretary of State refers to is meaningless. Indeed, one should read the Prime Minister's statement in response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim. One sees that there is a definition of an act of completion, so why has not the Secretary of State, who must support what the Prime Minister said and who must believe that the Prime Minister's definition is worthy—although it could have gone an awful lot further—included even that in the legislation as the trigger for allowing such a move to take place, instead of the nod from those on the Government Benches for an order that will come before the House?

On 27 November, the Prime Minister made it clear that there could be no additional clauses. We were dealing with acts of completion, which must be satisfactory not just to the Government here—with the majority they have—and to the other place, but to everyone. I do not know whether he intended to do so,

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but when the Prime Minister said that on 27 November, he issued a veto to this and other parties in the House of Commons, and to the people of Northern Ireland. He said that violence must be given up

I am sure that "everyone" included even the Democratic Unionist party. There was a requirement for all of us to be satisfied—not a majority, but everyone. The Secretary of State, however, is relying on a simple majority in a House in which he knows he can gain it.

The Government say that they will activate their measures only in certain circumstances. They have not defined them, although they had an opportunity to do so in their new clauses and amendments. As for the other safeguard in new clause 1, we have to wonder whether even the Secretary of State's definition of "safeguard" is the same as that of any other Member. To suggest that requiring members of a DPP to sign a declaration will safeguard the community in some way is to bury one's head in the sand, and to forget what has happened in local government in past years. We need only glance at the newspapers relating to those years to be aware of the breaches of the declaration by elected authorities in Northern Ireland. That safeguard has meant nothing in the case of the requirement for council members to commit themselves to non-violence, and it will mean nothing when applied to DPP members.

I have to agree with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh. I do not believe that DPPs have independent members: I think that in a situation such as that in Northern Ireland, independence does not exist.

I have serious concerns about the composition of the DPPs. The Secretary of State heralded this as a big step, saying that things had gone very well and everyone should be applauded. He seems to have closed his ears to the complaints about composition. Some worthy people—not just in my community, but in the nationalist community—have been bypassed. In my community, it appears to be almost an offence to have been a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary: certainly a former RUC member of significant standing is unlikely to get through the vetting procedure. Two obvious examples are Jimmy Spratt and Blair Wallace, both of whom would plainly have a contribution to make. When we look at the list of those who have been appointed, we should consider whether it is appropriate to appoint members on the basis of what is effectively a balancing exercise rather than on merit.

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