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3.37 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP): Most of my colleagues on the Northern Ireland Unionist Benches will vote as conservatives should do when we consider the destructive reforms—they are not really reforms—of the Lord Chancellor's office and the replacement for the present House of Lords, and I hope that many right hon. and hon. Members will vote accordingly, especially if there are a large number of conservatives in the present Conservative party.

I was unable to be present in the Palace of Westminster to hear the Gracious Speech because Her Majesty's Government decided that most of my colleagues and I should be in Northern Ireland on that day. I thought that that was quite an insult to Her Majesty. I was fighting an Assembly election last Wednesday and visiting polling stations. The Gracious Speech refers to the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. I can tell the House that the Good Friday agreement will not be implemented because I topped the poll in South Antrim and, last Wednesday, the vast majority of the Unionist electorate withdrew their consent for the Good Friday agreement and its implementation—a clear, unequivocal result—and I hope that the Government will listen very carefully, for two reasons.

Last week, the Unionist people spoke very clearly. They replaced my party, the Ulster Unionist party, with the Democratic Unionist party, as the leading party. In the republican nationalist vote, Sinn Fein ended up as the leading party—a party still committed to violence and terrorism, still with a private army. I am very sad that my fellow countrymen vote for a party like that.

We have stalemate and no progress has been made on achieving devolution in Northern Ireland, and devolution is the objective of Her Majesty's Government for all parts of the United Kingdom. We are not achieving devolution in Northern Ireland, because the republican side—Sinn Fein-IRA—has not become a democratic political party. The Ulster Unionist population have become totally disillusioned. Terrorists were forced into government and on to my party in the attempt to create an inclusive Executive with Sinn Fein. Promises, promises, promises were made, but there was deception, duplicity and double standards.

Sinn Fein is still involved in Colombia, in Florida and in arms importation. It was involved in the special branch break-in at Castlereagh and Stormont-gate, and last weekend reports in the Republic of Ireland suggested that the Garda are saying:

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I will be going to the appropriate authorities in the House and the Electoral Commission to see that such funding of a political party in the United Kingdom is properly investigated.

I want to be constructive. On behalf of my constituents and all the people of Northern Ireland, I want to see whether there is a way forward from the stalemate that there is now in Stormont. The way ahead is to replace the d'Hondt system for an inclusive Executive. Those who understand proportional representation know that Northern Ireland uses a d'Hondt system whereby all parties are put into the Executive on a proportional basis. That is inclusive, but there is no opposition and no collective cabinet responsibility. It is therefore unstable and unworkable.

The system is especially unworkable in Northern Ireland because one party—Sinn Fein—stops devolution taking place. It has not become a democratic political party, so it stops all the rest of us making devolution work. I and my colleagues who were at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, yesterday cannot create an operational Executive unless we have the okay from the political wing of the Provisional IRA. The d'Hondt system must go.

We cannot have a Stormont Government or a devolved Assembly on the basis of simple majority rule. There must be cross-community links and consensus. I recommend that we move away from a d'Hondt all-inclusive Executive to a voluntary coalition between the two Unionist parties—the UUP and the DUP—the constitutional nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour party and the small but still representative Alliance party. Such an Executive would have cross-community support and could give us the benefits of devolution tomorrow. The Assembly and the Executive could be up and operating within weeks, but we are being held back by the veto that the Government still give to Sinn Fein-IRA on devolution in Northern Ireland.

If the SDLP will not break away from the veto that it is giving to militant republicanism, so be it. We cannot have consensus, devolution and an Executive. We cannot have the benefits of a middle tier of administration between our local government on the ground and the Westminster Parliament and Government. We would like that middle tier in Northern Ireland to have a cross-community basis. If the SDLP will not separate itself in the republican community from Sinn Fein-IRA, I say to the British Government, "Let us stop the farce; let us bring it to an end."

We have an Assembly, but it was embarrassing for all my colleagues in all political parties to sign on at Parliament Buildings yesterday and to be told that we could not even table a question to a Minister. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly, I cannot table a question to a Minister in a way that I can today to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office about issues that affect my constituents—education, health, transport and so on. That is a farce.

Her Majesty's Government should give the Assembly a maximum of 12 weeks—three months—to see whether it can come together with a voluntary coalition and then

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transfer powers to an operating administration in the Executive and the Committee system of the Assembly. If it cannot do that within 12 weeks, we would be better closing Stormont. I, as an Ulster Unionist, would be more than happy to promote the policy of the forefathers of Ulster Unionism and to say that I want to be governed in the same way as England and Wales with a reform of local government powers down to a local government structure in Northern Ireland, or a sensible Assembly.

The Welsh Assembly is sensible. It has 60 seats and departmental Committees with Ministers being called to account. We do not have that in Stormont. We have independent Ministers taking decisions irrespective of cross-community support in the departmental Committees. The Assembly is too big, cumbersome and expensive. If we cannot make it work in three months, Her Majesty's Government should close it down. We, as Ulster Unionists, will try to get cross-community support for something better for the government of Northern Ireland.

Let us be governed like England and Wales. Let us be Unionist and let us have an Administration that is accountable and democratic rather than a bloated, unreal and inclusive Executive with a veto on the government of Northern Ireland—the veto of Sinn Fein-IRA. Irrespective of the promises and commitments that they gave at the time of and since the Good Friday agreement, they are playing a double game and holding up democracy in Northern Ireland. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will separate from Sinn Fein-IRA and start to work with the democratic parties in Northern Ireland—the two Unionist parties, the SDLP and the Alliance party—to find a better way forward. I want Stormont to work, but if it does not work in 12 weeks, let us close it down, go for full integration with the United Kingdom, and allow Ulster to be governed in the same way as England and Wales.

3.45 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): I want to give a few words of welcome to the civil partnerships Bill that was announced in the Gracious Speech last week. Hon. Members might recall that I had the privilege of introducing a Bill on civil partnerships in October 2001 under the ten-minute rule, which included some provisions that were announced last week. It included provisions to give rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian couples who chose to register their partnership, and I am pleased that the Government have decided to espouse such rights. I understand why they have not been persuaded to go down that route for all couples, irrespective of gender, although my Bill included such a provision.

I am a little disappointed that almost no other hon. Member has mentioned the civil partnerships Bill.

Mr. Alan Duncan: Don't worry, I will.

Jane Griffiths: I am glad to hear it.

I mentioned Reading young offenders institution, which is in my constituency, during my intervention on the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). That fine institution is better known by the name with which it was immortalised by the beautiful genius Oscar Wilde in

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"The Ballad of Reading Gaol". Reading has to make some amends for its treatment of Oscar Wilde under the regime of the time, so it is fitting that I speak as a Reading Member.

Reading and the issue of homophobia have appeared in the news more recently. We have no bishop in Reading. A bishop was appointed, but he was hounded out by the unsavoury tactics of the group known as the militant tendency in the Church of England, which was shameful. We hope to have a new bishop to conduct his ministry for us.

The civil partnerships Bill will be welcomed by my constituents, including a couple whom I shall call Ed and Tony—largely because those are their names.

Mr. Evans: Not Gordon and Tony, then.

Jane Griffiths: I counsel the hon. Gentleman to be calm.

Among my many constituents who will support the Bill is Wyndham Clampett, the supremo of the Reading gay men's chorus. I wholeheartedly recommend the performances of the chorus to hon. Members and I am pleased to say that it will sing at my 50th birthday party, which will take place soon.

I reiterate my welcome for the civil partnerships Bill and look forward to being involved in the debate on it. It represents a great step forward for social justice not only for gay and lesbian people, but for all of us.

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