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David T.C. Davies: I accept the point about airports. However, on speed limits, on which I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree, why should it be much harder in Wales than it is in England to redesignate speed limits on roads?

Nick Ainger: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a direct answer, but I will find out, and I shall certainly take the matter up with Andrew Davies.
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I think that I have dealt with most of the points made by the hon. Member for Clwyd, West. There is no intention to see powers taken away from local authorities. The idea of the Bill is to get them working together in a more integrated way. They have the representation to ensure that they would have a majority on any JTA if and when it were formed. I hope that, after looking at clause 5(5), he is reassured that they would have that control.

An efficient and effective transport system is critical to the future development of Wales. It plays a crucial role in the development of a diverse, competitive, high value-added economy. Our transport infrastructure serves as a backbone to economic growth. Transport is also key to taking forward our social agenda, such as in facilitating community regeneration and tackling urban isolation.

Tackling the transport problems of Wales presents a massive challenge in the face of ever-increasing demand to travel. It is an area in which Wales has made good progress, working with our key partners in the public and private sectors. We need to raise our game not only to keep up with the pace of change, but to make real advances. In order to respond to that challenge and to start to deliver the Assembly's vision for integrated transport, we have to ensure that the Assembly has the right tools to do the job. In the past, the Assembly's limited and fragmentary transport powers have restricted its ability to take forward its strategic transport agenda. The Bill gives the Assembly the powers that it needs to meet that challenge. I urge the House to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

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Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

16 Jun 2005 : Column 474

Northern Ireland

4.27 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,

The direction before us removed Sinn Fein's entitlement to financial assistance under the financial assistance scheme available to the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly for 12 months from 29 April 2005. The approval of both Houses is of course required, and I am pleased to inform the House that on 14 June the House of Lords approved the motion, which was moved by Lord Rooker.

The background to the direction will be familiar to hon. Members. The matters to which it relates have been debated here on a number of occasions. I therefore intend to be brief, but it may be helpful to the House and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I summarise the key events before turning to the substance of the direction.

The direction follows the Independent Monitoring Commission's fourth report, laid in Parliament and published on 10 February, which covered the Northern bank robbery and other crimes that it attributed to the Provisional IRA. The IMC's report, at paragraph 14, said that Sinn Fein must bear its responsibility for the incidents to which it referred, and it recommended that the Secretary of State consider exercising the powers that he has in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly to impose financial measures on Sinn Fein.

The House will recall that the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), made a statement in the House on 11 January, in the immediate aftermath of the Northern bank robbery. That statement set out the impact of the robbery on the political process and its damaging effect on the Government's efforts to restore the devolved institutions. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work as Secretary of State in support of the Northern Ireland Office during his time in office. I worked with him previously as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Welsh Office, and I know his integrity and commitment to the job.

My right hon. Friend made a further statement on 22 February after the publication of the IMC report. He said that having reflected on the IMC report, he had concluded that it would be appropriate to make a direction to remove Sinn Fein's entitlement to financial assistance and that the direction would be for 12 months, the maximum period permitted under the legislation. As required, he would take into account any representations made by Sinn Fein before reaching a final decision. Having provided Sinn Fein with an opportunity to make representations, my right hon. Friend decided that it would be appropriate to make a direction, and he did so on 1 April. A further debate took place in this House on 10 March on the separate matter of the suspension of Sinn Fein's entitlement to Westminster allowances for 12 months.

With regard to the substance of the direction, it removes Sinn Fein's entitlement to payments under the financial assistance for political parties scheme for
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12 months from 29 April 2005. It is the second direction against Sinn Fein, because a similar financial penalty was imposed from 29 April 2004 to 28 April 2005 following the IMC's first report in April 2004. That report attributed an attempted abduction to the Provisional IRA, and the IMC recommended that financial measures be imposed on Sinn Fein.

In the various debates that I have mentioned, there was general support for action against Sinn Fein. The need for the direction reflects the problems—ongoing paramilitary activity and criminality—that have blighted the political process in Northern Ireland, and both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made it clear that that must stop in order for progress to be made.

It gives me no pleasure to have to bring this matter before the House. As the Secretary of State said yesterday at Northern Ireland questions, we hope that in the period ahead we shall see movement from the Provisional IRA that ensures that the final transition to exclusively peaceful and democratic means is achieved. On the assumption that such movement occurs, the IMC will continue to play an important role in attesting that the reality matches the Provisional IRA's commitments. Moreover, it has a responsibility in relation to all paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland from whatever source.

I pay tribute to the members of the IMC for their reports to date and for their contribution to promoting peace and stability in Northern Ireland, and in doing so I commend the direction to the House.

4.32 pm

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