Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) (Ind Con): My hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party have been delayed in Northern Ireland by business arising from yesterday and have asked me to apologise for their absence. Will the Secretary of State take note that the DUP remains totally committed to the principle of power sharing in a devolved Government, but remains unshakeable in its opposition to that taking place in any circumstances other than with a complete, transparent and verifiable decommissioning of weapons? Is he also aware that, in his meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) yesterday, General de Chastelain was unable to report any meaningful dialogue with the IRA, let alone any progress on the issue of verification?

Mr. Murphy: I understand that the meeting did take place yesterday and I am sure that, as time goes by, there will be more meetings with General de Chastelain. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of transparency. What is clear from the document, however, is that decommissioning as such is now taken as read and everyone believes that it will happen. The issue is whether people can be confident enough about the transparency of the verification. That is what remains to all politicians in Northern Ireland to resolve.
9 Dec 2004 : Column 1294

The hon. Gentleman is also right to stress the commitment to power sharing. Everyone welcomes the DUP's public commitment in the document to power sharing in the context of complete transparency of decommissioning and the end of paramilitary activity. Incidentally, it is also the position of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)—although he can speak for himself—and his party that there cannot be a proper power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland that embraces Unionism without an end to paramilitary activity and proper decommissioning.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I suppose the first thing to say is, "Congratulations, commiserations, but please carry on". Many people in Northern Ireland believe, like me, that the crucial final sign that the paramilitary communities, both republican and loyalist, are finally committed to peaceful political ways forward is when they agree to work jointly with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in a cooperative way. Will my right hon. Friend tell us today whether unwillingness to serve jointly on district partnership boards from either side in the equation—there have been nominees from Sinn Fein and the DUP—was one of the aspects of trust to which he referred in his statement when he said that the outstanding issues amounted to more than photographs?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for her congratulations and commiserations and we will continue in our endeavours to bring the process to a successful conclusion. She is right to point to the critical issue of policing, as many right hon. and hon. Members have already done, in the process. Until the policing arrangements are accepted by every part of the community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement, the Patten report and the important reforms of policing in Northern Ireland will not be absolutely complete. I believe that we are getting to that stage and that the policing arrangements are an important part of the process. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the importance of that matter.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): My colleagues and I broadly welcome these proposals for the implementation of the Belfast agreement, and I would appreciate it if the Secretary of State confirmed that many of the matters included—for example, the ministerial code and the secretariat for the British-Irish Council—were in operation during the first Assembly or have been agreed then or since. The paper has to be read against the background of the joint declaration, so will the Secretary of State tell us more about the proposed implementation of that declaration? In particular, have any changes been made to it, especially with regard to normalisation procedures, their extent and the timetable for introduction? Have any changes resulted from the negotiations leading to these proposals?

There have been press reports and reports in the Dail over the last week or two of some measures that the Irish Government have negotiated with some of the parties. I would appreciate it if the Secretary of State gave us a complete account of the other matters that the Irish Government are negotiating, which are part of the mix for some parties but not for others. We need to get a full picture, which these proposals, on account of those other matters, do not provide.
9 Dec 2004 : Column 1295

I welcome, too, the overnight statement from the IRA, particularly as it largely repeats the draft that the Government have included in the proposals. Perhaps, though, the Secretary of State would consider some of its language against last October's statement, which, in some respects, depending on how one interprets it, is actually a stronger statement. Perhaps he would let us know why the language has varied from that of last October.

I also welcome the statement by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) that the document has resolved all the issues that he and his colleagues have with the Belfast agreement. We welcome their completion of the process towards acceptance of the agreement, which they started when they participated in the Assembly and took office.

I have to say that we regard—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to confine his remarks; otherwise, this will become almost a statement in itself.

Mr. Trimble: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to ask questions. We regard the request for photographs as reasonable. The Secretary of State said that it has turned out that the IRA had a different view from everyone else. Does "everyone else" include those republicans to whom he was speaking during the negotiations? Finally, with regard to the proposals in the document for the Government to nominate two clergymen to act as additional witnesses to decommissioning, can the Secretary of State confirm that that would enable the Government to nominate such persons as the hon. Member for North Antrim or the former hon. Member for Mid-Ulster? Might that be considered a way of resolving the impasse?

Mr. Murphy: It is an idea worth considering.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general agreement to the points in the document and his support for the move forward. I agree, incidentally, that a number of institutional issues in the document were beginning to arise when he was First Minister. He and his party referred to them, indeed, in meetings at Stormont.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the joint declaration and its relationship with normalisation over the various aspects of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and on-the-runs. All those things can come about only in the context of acts of completion, which the Government have referred to. The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity next week to talk to us about the detail, but what is certain is that such normalisation would be enacted only in the context of proper acts of completion on paramilitarism and decommissioning. The right hon. Gentleman referred to other issues and we can again talk in detail about them when we meet next week. For example, the question of a financial package in Northern Ireland has been referred to by his and other parties, and issues such as confidence-building measures for nationalists or Unionists were discussed. He has already raised with me and the Prime Minister some of the issues that the Irish
9 Dec 2004 : Column 1296
Government raised. The Irish Foreign Minister will be present, too, next week, so there will be an opportunity there.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to last October's statement by the IRA. We will study the two statements for comparisons. Finally, he referred to photographs and to the importance of the issue. I simply repeat that it has been discussed since Leeds castle. We did not agree in the end, but many of us thought that we had a compromise.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Despite all the shortcomings and the unfortunate failure to get the power-sharing Executive working again, is not it a fact that the peace process of the Good Friday agreement has given much, if not all, of Northern Ireland a great degree of prosperity, substantial development and investment and freedom from day to day terrorist violence? Is not that an accomplishment in itself? We should not forget the importance of an agreement that we hope will lead to a binding agreement for the future of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Murphy: I could not agree more. I reiterate that Northern Ireland is in a much better state today than it was some years ago. That is so in terms of unemployment and general prosperity, and Northern Ireland is the fastest growing region in the United Kingdom. People are living a much better life than they used to, a life no longer encumbered by the difficulties of the past. All that is the result of an agreement forged by all the political parties in Northern Ireland.

If right hon. and hon. Members have read leading articles in the newspapers here and in Dublin and Belfast, they will know that commentators overwhelmingly referred to the importance of yesterday in getting the agreement that we want and on the points to which my hon. Friend referred.

Next Section IndexHome Page