|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I am perplexed by the comments by the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson). I know that her party takes a cynical view of the agreement, but is there any evidence to suggest that jobsother than those directly associated with terrorismhave been lost as a direct result of the benefits of the agreement?
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Tourism Ireland, one of the cross-border bodies established by the Good Friday agreement, is responsible for marketing the whole of Ireland to tourists? Will he also confirm that Tourism Ireland is without the political direction that it was designed to receive? Indeed, the 600 people who work in various cross-border bodies are also without the indigenous political direction that they were designed to receive. When we talk about tourism and job creation, will the Secretary of State explain that there is a dynamic within the cross-border arrangements for job creation on a massive scale?
Mr. Murphy: There is no doubt in my mind that tourists want to come to the island of Ireland. Traditionally, many more have visited the Republic. I am glad that thousands more are now coming to Northern Ireland as a consequence of visiting the island of Ireland.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): The Secretary of State paints a rosy picture of the Northern Ireland economy. The other economy that is prospering in Northern Ireland is the black economy. While the extortion and smuggling propagated by the paramilitary organisations continue apace, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there can never be full completion until fundraising is added to the list that he outlines time and time again in talking about completion by Sinn Fein-IRA or, indeed, any other paramilitary organisation?
We shall pursue the continuing implementation of the Belfast agreement. The joint declaration sets out a programme of reform in line with the agreement that benefits everyone in Northern Ireland. We shall proceed with a number of the proposals in the joint declaration in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. There are very important proposals relating to security
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): On the joint declaration, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that both Governments believe, with huge regret, that it represents the right way forward? Is not the publication of the joint declaration an important reason why we should reluctantly accept this difficult decision?
Mr. Murphy: The joint declaration is the result of almost seven months of discussion and negotiation. It represents a shared understanding between the Governments and the pro-agreement parties that this was the best way forward. Even though we did not agree on elections, relations between the British and Irish Governments remain robust and firm. Without that good relationship, we could not make the progress that is necessary.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): I ask again: what indications has the Secretary of State been given by the Ulster Unionist party that the joint declaration is a shared understanding of the way forward?
Mr. Murphy: That was not a bad try. The hon. Gentleman tried it last Tuesday, and given that he has asked the same question, I will give him the same answer. The declaration is a shared understanding among those who negotiated and discussed these matters at Hillsborough and elsewhere. It is up to the individual political parties in Northern Ireland through their own mechanisms to decide how best to deal with these matters. Let me again emphasise the fact that the joint declaration is one document, but there are two others. The hon. Gentleman's party did not like the one that deals with on-the-runs, so it was not a shared understanding between that party and the Governments. Sinn Fein did not like the other document, which referred to the monitoring body and the verification procedures and sanctions; again, the two Governments decided to put it forward.
Some, including the hon. Gentleman, have suggested that the declaration is a charter of concessions to one side. I do not believe thatnor do I think that such an assertion is supported by the facts. Proper policing, justice, rights and equality are fundamental to everybody, whatever side they belong to, in a modern democratic society. The joint declaration includes an end to all paramilitary activity and sets out an extensive catalogue, which I have already quoted, of activities that must cease. It includes plans for an independent body for monitoring conformity with commitments in the agreement and the declaration, in particular the monitoring of paramilitary activity. We shall bring forward early legislation in that respectlegislation for which we shall have more timethat also covers the means for giving effect to the body's findings.
The further implementation of the agreement is not about concessions to one interest or the other. It is designed to reassure all parties that in due course they can go into elections confident that the institutions are being restored on a stable, long term, basis. What we
Mr. Peter Robinson: The burden of the Secretary of State's argument is that the IRA might not step up to the mark in terms of a full commitment to non-violence. If the sanctions that he mentioned worked, why would he stop an election when he could have dealt with the IRA through the sanctions process? Is that not an admission on his part that the sanctions were hopeless?
Mr. Murphy: But the sanctions that are to be proposed as a consequence of the joint declaration are new ones, which would have to beindeed, will belegislated for in this House of Commons. That will take time. My argument is that it is a pointless exercise electing people to a suspended Assembly which, if it is restored, will not produce a Government in the context of the Belfast agreement. That is the heart of the matter. Why is the Assembly suspended? Because of a lack of confidence and trust. Why are confidence and trust lacking? Because of continued paramilitary activity. We must address the paramilitary activity in order to restore the trust needed to restore the institutions and hold elections to them.
David Burnside: If we had an Executive in operation and the new sanctions processthe four-person sanctions committeewas operating in law, and if the activities of the Provisional IRA in Colombia were repeated, and Castlereagh happened again, and Stormontgate happened again, would that lead to the automatic expulsion of Sinn Fein from the Executive?
Mr. Murphy: No doubt the hon. Gentleman has read the joint declaration and the annexe to it and has seen the proposal for a gradation of offences, so that the most seriousI do not underestimate the seriousness of the matters he mentionswould be referred in the first instance to the Assembly itself. Decisions would then have to be taken, because the finger would have been pointed by the verification body at the offence in question. No such monitoring body exists at present. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the existence of that body will be an extra protection for those who want to ensure that the institutions are safeguarded.
Conscious of the time, I turn to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the setting of a new election date. We hope, as we have said, that it will be possible to hold an election by the autumn, but the Bill sets no fixed date. In our view, setting dates alone will not advance the processinstead, it risks impaling the process on a hook and inhibiting sensible discussion. I know that some hon. Members feel strongly that the Bill should contain a date for the election, but I think that that is
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): The Secretary of State will notice from the amendment paper that a common purpose of all the political parties represented in this House is to ensure that the Bill contains a sunset clause, in part to focus the minds of all the partieswith a small "p" and with a large "p"on the need to reach a resolution. In the event of a failure to do so, it would be appropriate for him to return to the House with new policies and perhaps new legislation, but the Bill should contain a sunset clausesome statement of a date by which either elections must be held, or the Secretary of State must make a fresh statement to the House and start again. It is absurd to leave the matter open. Does he have an open mind on the possibility of inserting a sunset clause?