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Mr. Hain: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I shall certainly make arrangements for photocopies to be made available to hon. Members who wish to have them. I am sorry that the circumstances were such that they did not receive them earlier.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP):
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for taking another intervention
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it will be quick. He really needs to clarify the inconsistency of his approach in recent weeks. We are being asked to approve terrorism legislation that will extend part VII for at least two years, and perhaps another year on top of that, on the basis that the security situation, as determined at the present time, makes the provisions "necessary". How can he reconcile a Bill that we are being asked to pass on that assessment with the facts that he has already indicated that Sinn Fein's allowances will be returned in the Assembly, that he will recommend in a few weeks that Sinn Fein Members' allowances in this House should be returned, and that Royal Irish Regiment home battalions should be disbanded? Before we go any further, will he reconcile the two irreconcilable points of view that are coming out of the Northern Ireland Office?
Mr. Hain: I understand the hon. Lady's points, which she makes with her normal courtesy and force. However, it is clear that we are trying to progress the politics and ensure that we get a permanent end to violenceincluding that from the IRA, in relation to her point about allowances. At the same time, to ensure that the safety and security of each individual citizen in Northern Ireland is not jeopardised in any way by any retrograde action, we are putting in place necessary provisions through the Bill. It is consistent to move forward the politics while adopting the prudent approach of safeguarding the position if there were a terrorist outbreak by perhaps dissident republicans, or the remaining active loyalist groups that have not done what the Loyalist Volunteer Force announced overnight.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does not what the Secretary of State has said this afternoon, and indeed his reply to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), underline the wisdom of him giving the House the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny of the on-the-runs legislation with which we are threatened?
Mr. Hain: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I dealt with that matter last week when I gave evidence to his Committee and he questioned me closely on it. The on-the-runs legislation is of course entirely separate from the Bill.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that many people in Northern Ireland think that this "progress" is capitulation and is not going to help? There is the view that many things are moving the situation in one wayespecially in favour of the IRAand we also have this legislation. Surely there is a contradiction. It is not possible to have it both ways. Either things are not good in Northern Ireland or else things are good in Northern Ireland. Those of us who live there know exactly what the answer to that is.
The soon-to-be right hon. Gentleman makes a point about a judgment on this matter. We are right to bring the Bill before the House today, and I am sure that he will welcome it later on. We are right to do that as a prudent safety mechanism just in case there is a repeat of the threatperhaps by a dissident republican
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group or one of the loyalist groups that has not yet announced that it is disarming and standing down in the way that the LVF haswhich we need to be in a position to meet. As the normalisation measures are taken forward in terms of reducing the number of armed forces and so, I am sure that every citizen in Northern Ireland will be reassured that we have, as a fall-back, legislation that has been necessary in recent years.
Lady Hermon: May I sum up the message coming from the Secretary of State? We are taking the Bill through the House because he believes that we are still under threat from dissident republicans and perhaps loyalist paramilitaries, but that we are under no threat from the Provisional IRA. Is he really saying that to the people of Northern Ireland?
Mr. Hain: The Bill creates an enabling environment. That is why the time frame is put in the way that it is. As regards the promises that the IRA made on 28 July and the decommissioning of its arsenal, which General John de Chastelain announced on 26 September, and the consequences that that will have for activity on the ground, which the hon. Lady and I want closed down for good, we will have to await the reports of the Independent Monitoring Commissionthe next one is due in Januaryto see what has been delivered and whether the promises have been kept.
While the security situation is far from perfectthe violent events at Whiterock last month are evidence of thatno one could deny that the security situation has changed fundamentally as a result of the events of the past couple of months. On 28 July 2005, the Provisional IRA made an historic statement, announcing an end to the armed conflict and ordering all members to dump arms. In response, I announced on 1 August 2005 the triggering of a programme of security normalisation measures. That sees a gradual reduction in the security infrastructure in Northern Ireland and a reduction in troop numbers to garrison level, and culminates in the repeal of counter-terrorism legislation particular to Northern Ireland.
On 26 September 2005, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that the totality of the IRA's arsenal had been put beyond use. Like the statement on 28 July, that was a seismic step by the IRA, but we need to be sure that it has ended paramilitary and criminal activity for good. The January report of the IMC will help us to make that assessment.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP):
The Secretary of State refers to the triggering of the implementation of the so-called normalisation aspects of the joint declaration. Will he confirm that that was agreed as part of negotiations involving the pro-agreement parties in the run-up to the joint declaration? Does he recognise that since that agreement things have changed in Northern Ireland and that people are rightly concerned that what is being followed is a timetable that is now out of date and does not apply to the circumstances that prevail politically in Northern Ireland today?
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Mr. Hain: I can confirm that the pro-agreement parties were consulted and gave their general endorsement to the joint declaration in 2003. That was the statement that pre-announced all the matters about which I reminded everyone in early August. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have many deep concerns about the pace of those normalisation procedures. We are having a separate discussion about the position of the Royal Irish Regiment home battalions, and the Democratic Unionist party has put some very good points to me about how that should be handled, particularly the levels of redundancy, about which there is much concern in many of the communities where soldiers and their families have made tremendous sacrifices over the years, sometimes with their lives. The points made by the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and other DUP Members are well taken. I have had recent discussions with the Chief of the Defence Staff on the matter, and he is seized of the importance that I attach to proper provision and is well aware of the concerns that exist, particularly in those Unionist communities that have suffered so much over the last years.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the Royal Irish Regiment. We have been meeting regularly with many of the soldiers, and I am aware of their concerns, but they are now being told that it could be January next year before they are given an indication of what the package is likely to be and how much compensation they will receive. Will the Secretary of State, in his ongoing discussions with the Secretary of State for Defence, press the point that there is a need to remove the uncertainty over their future, as we will be doing?
Mr. Hain: First, I acknowledge the particular work that the hon. Gentleman has put into this matter. I know of his previous involvement with the Royal Irish Regiment and that of his families; that gives him a particular expertise and authority to speak on this. I have made it clear, as I have to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defencein the end this is an MOD matter, although I am batting for the people of Northern Ireland on this issue, as the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have asked me to doand last week to the Chief of the Defence Staff, that it is important that the families and the men and women involved know what their future is as soon as possible. In the end it is not a matter for me, but if it is possible to obtain a decision before Christmas, that would be very desirable, and I have made that clear. But I do not want to press too fast and too hard and get an earlier decision that is not a good one. I would rather have a good one even though I agree that it is essential that it is made as soon as possible, and ideally before Christmas.
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