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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward):
Ministerial colleagues and I are engaged in a series of meetings with all interested parties and institutions, including the Parades Commission, to discuss this year's parades and processions. In a climate that can give rise to tension and, regrettably, disorder, the commission deserves the
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full support of everyone in Northern Ireland for carrying out its important task impartially and working in the best interests of the whole community.
Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply, although I think that it will fall on deaf ears in Northern Ireland. I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister and his colleagues not only to the Dispatch Box, but particularly to the Northern Ireland Office. Is it the Minister's view that the Parades Commission is being deliberately provocative in refusing permission for parades simply because the names of individual Orangemen are not actually listed on the application forms? It is perceived as deliberately provocative.
Mr. Woodward: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. The specific form to which she refers is known as the 11/1 form. There is a statutory requirement for parade organisers to notify the police at least 28 days in advance of a parade and they have to complete an 11/1 form. It also includes a statutory requirement to identify the person organising the parade. Since the commission was established, all parade organisers have satisfied the requirement to complete the form. This year, a handful of formssome earlier in the year and some recentlyhave been submitted without completion of the specific box to identify the name of the person organising the parade. My understanding is that discussions are now taking placeeven todayabout whether the parades that took place and will take place on the basis of technically incorrectly completed forms are, while challenging to the commission, none the less still legal. We would of course like all groups to co-operate with the commission to ensure a peaceful season. We are therefore hopeful and confident that a solution is now being found to that specific problem.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): The Minister will agree that confidence in the Parades Commission is virtually nil in the Unionist community. Does he accept that the situation will not have been improved by legislation that increased the powers of the Parades Commission and granted it the authority to make determinations about not only those seeking to parade, but those viewing a parade?
Mr. Woodward: I absolutely accept that there is a dispute about the Parades Commission at the moment, especially among some members of the Orange Order. I remind the hon. Lady of the comments made by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about the good job that the Parades Commission has done. Indeed, no one has come forward with alternative proposals for such a commission.
There will of course be the opportunity for us to examine the commission's composition at the end of the year, after its current chairman retires. I am well aware that all seven members of the commission are currently men. If we want it to be representative of the community, it would be nice to see some women members. The commission itself has acknowledged that there will be an opportunity in the autumn for its processes to be examined, which will include all the forms involved in parades.
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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The feuding between loyalist terror groups continues, as does dissident republican activity. Paramilitary organisations on both sides continue to engage in attacks on their communities. It is time for all paramilitary violence and criminality to come to an end.
Mr. Mackay: I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his important new post, but put it to him that his answer was inevitably rather dismal and disappointing. Will he comment on the joint declaration, which made it absolutely clear that there could be no political normalisation until the IRA and other terrorist and paramilitary organisations had disbanded? Can we assume that he supports that policy as the new Secretary of State?
Mr. Hain: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I stress that I think that we are at one in insisting that paramilitary activity and criminality are banished from Northern Ireland's politics, and even in saying that that should underpin Northern Ireland's politics. I am rather more concerned about the criminality at the moment because it is infecting the whole foundations of Northern Ireland's politics and seeping across the border into the south, so we are mindful of that.
Mr. Bellingham: In welcoming the Secretary of State to his post, does he recall writing in the early 1970s that all sensible people were demanding that troops be taken out of Northern Ireland? Luckily, most sensible people ignored his advice and the troops went on to play a vital role in securing peace in the Province. Given that we need an ongoing military presence in the Province, has he changed his mind?
Mr. Hain: I had been wondering who was going to ask that question and I actually thought that it was probably going to be the hon. Gentleman, so he has turned up on cue. It is important that the whole of Northern Ireland moves forward. [Interruption.] Indeed, not back; not back to the 1970s, 1980s or 1990swe need to continue to move forward. I have talked to people in Northern Ireland and all the elected politicians over the past month and it is significant that no one is thinking what he is thinking. They want to move forward, not back.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim)
(DUP): As the Secretary of State omitted to include what the Independent Monitoring Commission report said about IRA activity in Northern Ireland in his previous response, does he agree with the recent report of the IMC that says that the IRA is still involved in targeting, training, importing arms and financing its organisation? In the light of that, will he explain to the House and the
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people of Northern Ireland how giving a veto on political progress to the political representatives of the IRA is likely to change that mode of behaviour?
Mr. Hain: There is no veto, and there can be no veto, for anybody in the political process in Northern Ireland, and certainly not for the IRA. Progress and discussions continue, and my ministerial team and I are involved in that. The IMC report was explicit, however, about the activity carried out by the Provisional IRA, loyalist paramilitary groups and republican paramilitary groups of another description. It has to stop. The IMC is explicit about that and it will continue to monitor the situation for us. [Interruption.]
Given that the Government are running down the full-time police reserve force in Northern Ireland and have failed to increase the part-time reserve force to the levels recommended by Patten, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that many people will be surprised to find that the Government are considering recruiting community support officers? Does he further understand that many people could be concerned that they will be seen as a replacement for more experienced police officers and that they could be drawn from existing paramilitary organisations or have paramilitary backgrounds? Will he assure the House that that will not be the case?
Mr. Hain: Clearly, that would not be either the intention or the effect. There are around 10,500 troops in Northern Ireland who are responsible for maintaining security, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that they do a very good job. We are, however, seeking to normalise policing and security, which is reflected in the reforms in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That includes new proposals for community policing, which I hope he will support. [Interruption.]
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