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Mr. Dodds : Total decommissioning was not in the Belfast agreement.

Mr. Harris: Decommissioning was included in the agreement, but the disbandment of the IRA was not. We would all prefer the IRA formally to disband, but I hope that that will not be used as an excuse for progress on the peace process to pause or end completely.

Mr. Dodds : This is a very important issue. Surely the   hon. Gentleman is not taking a softer line than the Minister for Justice in the Irish Republic, who is on record as saying that the IRA should and must disband. Indeed, the former leader of the SDLP has also said that it must do so. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that Sinn Fein could be in government and still allied to an organisation that is illegal under the law but has not disbanded or dismantled.

Mr. Harris: I am certainly not suggesting that the IRA, with its current structure, could be maintained in a democratic Northern Ireland. I know that it has been mooted that it could become some kind of veterans' society or similar social organisation. I make no comment about whether that is a good or bad thing, but if that were the chosen option I hope that no party in Northern Ireland would prevent further progress to a more democratic, devolved Northern Ireland for that reason.

Mr. Donaldson : I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from on this point, but does he recognise that one of the major impediments to progress in Northern Ireland is Sinn Fein's failure to support the police and the rule of the law? If republicans are to be recognised as fully embracing democracy, they have to support the police and the rule of law. One cannot be in government as a law maker and not support those who are tasked with upholding the law. That is the crucial issue, because if Sinn Fein do that, what need has the IRA to exist?

Mr. Harris: In making a passing comment, I feel as though I have kicked a wasps' nest. The hon. Gentleman is correct, and the priority must of course be to ensure that the nationalist community co-operates fully with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That is the minimum that should be expected and anything that   gets in the way of that and acts as a buffer between the nationalist community and the police must not be tolerated. I am on the record as saying that I hope that   the IRA disbands, but I hope—no, I demand—that whatever form it takes in the future it must not in any way interfere with the rule of law, as represented by the PSNI.

Rev. Ian Paisley : May I remind the hon. Gentleman of   the conference at Leeds castle? The DUP set out its   plan honestly and openly, but at the very time we were talking to the Government—we did not talk to IRA-Sinn Fein—IRA-Sinn Fein negotiators were
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planning the bank raid. That is not what we said, but what the Minister for Justice from the Irish Republic said.

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman will not catch me trying to justify or defend the appalling behaviour of Sinn Fein negotiators at Leeds castle. As he rightly says, they and their cohorts in the IRA were planning a major bank robbery as they negotiated to join a devolved Government. That is unacceptable.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I   divulge the details of a personal conversation that we had at Leeds castle. We met outside the members' cloakroom and I asked him, "Ian, will you be First Minister?" He replied, "I don't know, I just don't know." I walked away thinking, with all due respect, that that was the most positive thing that I had heard him say during 20 years of Northern Ireland politics.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) intervened on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate and raised the genuine concern that if the provisions of part VII of the   Terrorism Act 2000 needed to be in force, the Government could not justify reinstating the allowances of Sinn Fein Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I remind the hon. Lady that throughout the whole period from 1999 when Sinn Fein Members of the   Northern Ireland Assembly were receiving their allowances, section 7 powers were in force. There is thus no contradiction in the Government's policy to give back those allowances to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. As someone who voted to remove allowances from Sinn   Fein Members of the House, I hope to have the opportunity in the near future to vote to reinstate them as a direct result of developments over the summer.

It is a tragedy that Members representing Sinn Fein in the House have chosen not to take their seats and so, once again, are not here to represent their constituents on a matter of crucial importance. When I last pressed a Sinn Fein Member about why they would not take up their seats, I pointed out that their ideological, ethical and moral objections to entering this place were exactly the same as those they had raised against sitting in the Dail and in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, in both of which they now sit.

Lady Hermon: There are two points to be made, as there are two sets of allowances. The allowance to the Sinn Fein group in the Assembly was withdrawn by the   Government, quite rightly, after an ad hoc report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, which the Government introduced under legislation in the House as an independent body to monitor paramilitary activity. Last December, there was a serious bank robbery and two families were held under threat of violence. On the back of an IMC report and its recommendation to the Government, which the Government upheld, the financial penalty to Sinn Fein was to last 12 months. However, within days of the IMC report this year, and with only a month to look at IRA   activity, the Government moved to reinstate Sinn
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Fein's allowances. In a few weeks, the Secretary of State will recommend that Sinn Fein allowances in the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Interventions are getting longer and longer. I think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) will have got the hon. Lady's point.

Mr. Harris: I understand the hon. Lady's frustration at that development. My view, but possibly not the Government's—although I suspect it is—is that it was right to recognise the significant announcements made by the IRA over the summer. In re-establishing the allowances, the Government formally recognised that the IRA and Sinn Fein are closely linked, but that, given what happened over the summer, denying the allowances could not continue to be justified. However, I accept that the hon. Lady will disagree.

The hon. Member for North Antrim mentioned the word "capitulation" in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He knows better than anyone that the words we use in Northern Ireland debates matter a great deal. I am frustrated when debates are defined by language that, whether deliberately intended to or not, causes anxiety in a particular part of the community. For instance, why must every advance be described as a concession or a surrender? Progress in Northern Ireland cannot and should not be measured by assuming that every development of the peace process can be described as a concession, a snub or a gain in a column headed Unionist or nationalist.

I finish by paying tribute to David Trimble, who as leader of the Ulster Unionist party delivered huge progress not only for the part of the community that he represented but for the whole community in Northern Ireland. He was, with John Hume, a well-deserved recipient of the Nobel peace prize. His absence from the House takes something away from our debates. Many Labour Members, while not necessarily agreeing with everything that he said during his career in this place, understood the huge contribution he made to peace in the Province. I hope that in a year or so I will be able to stand here and make similar comments about the hon. Member for North Antrim and the contribution that he may or may not make during the next year.

4.55 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I spoke during the debate on the Second Reading of the Terrorism Act 2000, and specifically about part VIII of   that Act, to which the Bill refers. At the time, I   welcomed the fact that those measures were to be in place for only five years and subject to renewal by Parliament by statutory instrument every 12 months. I   have served on every committee that debated the annual review of those sections of the Act. That review was important because Parliament had to have the ability to consider the provisions regularly and to make its own judgment of the situation in Northern Ireland and of whether those provisions remained necessary.

In that context, it has obviously been absolutely essential to have the benefit of studying the annual reports of my noble Friend Lord Carlile of Berriew.
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Indeed, in my judgment his work has underpinned much of the guidance that the Government have used to make their decisions subsequently. His work has been invaluable—not just because he happens to be the former Member of Parliament for Montgomeryshire. Unfortunately, given the time frame needed to place the Bill on to the statute book before the provisions run out in February, we are not able to see his deliberations on the operation of part VII of the 2000 Act in the current year, but I shall look very closely at his latest report when it is published. In that sense, it was very important that we had access to the letter that has subsequently been shared with those hon. Members who are in the Chamber today. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for having made that arrangement, which has been helpful in informing the debate.

We welcome the fact that part VII will be extended only for a very limited time—indeed, until the end of July 2007. As we have already discussed, there is provision in the Bill for the sections that are then in force to continue, but no later than 1 August 2008—again, with specific parliamentary approval by statutory instrument. I understand that that can be achieved only by positive affirmation in the Commons and in another place, and I see the Minister nodding on that score. Lord Carlile welcomes that check, and I think that it is important, too, because Parliament simply must be able to look regularly and closely at whether such measures are indeed necessary in Northern Ireland.

Of course I had hoped, as probably everyone had hoped in 2000, that we would have made sufficient progress in the long march towards peace and the   normalisation of the Province to make part VII irrelevant at some point during the five-year lifetime that was placed on it. Although some progress has been made in recent weeks particularly, there has been such turmoil in the intervening years that the provisions of part VII are evidently still necessary. Although the IRA statement in July and the subsequent decommissioning of IRA weapons were significant events, they took a long time to happen. It is five and a half years after all paramilitary activities were meant to have come to an end, and seven and a half years since the signing of the Good Friday agreement. In fact, that very delay has meant that we find ourselves debating part VII again.

We have had insufficient time to judge whether the IRA has decommissioned not just its weapons, but its activities. The signs from the latest IMC report are encouraging and I look forward to its next report in January, but I feel that the jury is still out on the long term. Until recently, similar progress has not been made in relation to loyalist violence or dissident republicans. The violence that we saw over the summer was truly horrific, and the loyalist paramilitaries demonstrated in no uncertain terms why it is necessary for part VII of the 2000 Act to remain in force.

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