Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Apart from calling down the wrath of the full weight of the law upon the heads of loyalist paramilitaries, I would be most grateful to the Secretary of State if he would enlighten the House as to the real efforts being made by the Northern Ireland Office to bring the loyalist paramilitaries in from the cold and to encourage them to begin the decommissioning of their weaponry.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. This is something that we are working on all the time, and I know that I have her support and that of her party, which has also shown great courage over the years. It is absolutely critical that we get the political leadership in those communities to bring them in from the cold and that we show that there is an honourable future for loyalism in the future of Northern Ireland. That honourable future is to take its place in the political arena, not in the streets with a gun or a blast bomb.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend referred to the desire to see local government returned to Northern Ireland, but will he comment on the reorganisation of local government councils and on the review of public administration?
Mr. Hain: Yes, we will announceI am sure that my hon. Friend will be encouraged by thisour views on how local government should be reorganised. There are 26 local councils in Northern Ireland. It is over-administered, not just in terms of the number of local authorities, but in the number of police authorities, health authorities and hospital trusts. There are also about 100 quangos. It is important that we get an efficient public sector, more accountability to local people and more powers for local councils. That will form part of our proposals for the future.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The Secretary of State paid a well deserved tribute to the bravery of the police, various politiciansboth living and no longer livingand the victims. However, one group of people to whom he perhaps inadvertently did not pay tribute was the men and women of the British Army and the security services, without whom we would not be in the position that we are in today. He said that it had taken a long time for the IRA to realise that violence did not pay, but surely the British Army and the security services gave it that realisation. Is it not fortunate that the prescription of those who signed up to the troops out movement at the height of the troubles was ignored by successive Governments?
Yes, it was. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am glad that he has given me the opportunity to endorse his point that the Army has played an important role. I stress that 1,200 soldiers
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backing up the police during the Whiterock weekend helped to hold the line and ensure not only that the violence was containeddespite pretty vicious attacks, including murder attemptsbut that it did not spill over into nationalist areas, which was the intention of some of the paramilitaries and others involved in the rioting. That would have created an enormous conflagration, although it was avoided.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): In welcoming the statement, may I echo the comments made about Mo Mowlam? I worked with Mo Mowlam for more than 20 years, first on trying to get justice for miners who were sacked and sometimes jailed during the 198485 strike, and then as a national official with Unison during her work in Northern Ireland. The people over there made us both realise that the biggest mistake that can be made in Northern Ireland is to leave a vacuum. Over the past few months, we have seen the opportunity to come out of the vacuum that we have been in for several months and years.
The point that has been made today about political leadership should be taken on board by everyone in the Chamber. I am proud that I am now a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). We have taken the decision to work together in a non-partisan way to try to help to move things forward. Does the Secretary of State agree that political leadership will take us to a position where, instead of taking risks for peace, which Mo used to speak about, we can now start taking decisions for peace?
Mr. Hain: I certainly hope so. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is dangerous to leave a political vacuum, so his points are appositeas are his comments about Mo Mowlam, who reached parts of the community that no politician normally reaches, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Secretary of State give us some clarity on two matters arising from his statement? He says that the impossible has happened in that the IRA war machine has gone. Will he give us an explanation for that statement, because it is not consistent with what the Chief Constable recently told the Policing Board, or with what the IMC indicated to us? Where is the evidence that the war machine has gone, as opposed to just some of the weaponry?
The Secretary of State indicated that we can move the process forward in January if the IMC reports that there is an end to IRA activity, by which I assume that he means both paramilitary and criminal activity. Does he accept that possessing funds from the Northern bank robbery and other robberies represents a continuing criminal offence, and that while the IRA still possesses those funds it is still continuing with criminality?
Obviously, I agree that if people have stolen money and are still in possession of it they are criminally culpable, so the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As for the war machine being gone, he will
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understand that General de Chastelain made a statement and gave a report on 26 September, which was witnessed not only by fellow members of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning but, for the first time, two clergymen, including Harold Good, a widely respected Protestant clergyman and former president of the Methodist Church in Ireland. That showed that something historic and, as the hon. Gentleman said, something substantial had happened.
I hope that things will move forward after January, but I cannot anticipate what the IMC report will say about IRA activity. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there must be an end to both paramilitary and criminal activity, as I have always said, so he is right to stress that point. It is also important for us to try to create circumstances against the background of a positive reportif it is positive, and the information that I have received so far is that it is broadly positivethat will allow us to find a way of talking again and not leaving a political vacuum.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Secretary of State made it clear that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has had a turbulent summer combating a great deal of criminal activity, in which it has been supported by the Army. Does he agree that now is not the time for Her Majesty's Government to consider disbanding the Territorial battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment?
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as I have explained, the process was announced in May 2003, so it should come as no surprise. The situation is difficult for soldiers in the home-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment. The 1st Battalion will remain, but that is deployable worldwide, like other battalions in the armed forces. I have received important representations from the leader of the Democratic Unionist party and his colleagues about redundancy terms and other matters. We are examining those requests at the moment and trying to meet them.
The truth is, as the General Officer Commanding told me, that the Royal Irish Regiment home battalions have been operating at about 4 per cent. capacity, on average. If the Whiterock weekend is included, the capacity works out at 10 per cent. There is no longer the same level of threat that there was in the past, so the whole situation must be adjusted. However, I stress to the hon. Gentleman that that will not be done in a way that risks anyone's security.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP):
Will the Secretary of State condemn the remarks made by one of the independent observers on IRA decommissioning when he last night described and branded all Unionists as Nazis? Will he also explain to the House how an on-the-run proposal that will allow up to 150 people who are guilty of murder, attempted murder and bombing to come back to Northern Ireland without serving one day in prison is anything other than an amnesty? The cold case review is investigating 1,800 cases. What are the implications for anyone against whom evidence is discovered during that review? Will they be subject to
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the same terms as on-the-runs, or will they have to skip across the border for a day or two to qualify for the same treatment?