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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for his advance courtesies in connection with it. I welcome his indication that he has decided not to seek Order-in-Council powers in the Bill to adjust the working of the institutions. He will understand that it is not just because some of us were celebrating the 1916 rising this weekend that we would not be happy to see the Secretary of State take such powers in relation to institutions that were mandated uniquely by all the people of Ireland in our generation.
In relation to other aspects of the statement, the Secretary of State indicated that there would be discussions with the parties next week about how the Assembly might function, including standing orders. The key question in those discussions will be who is to decide and when. We are told that the measure will give the Assembly a new working status and that it will not be just a shadow Assembly, so will there be a similar new working status for the north-south arrangements in that period, beyond care and maintenance?
In relation to a number of decisions, including water charges and the review of public administration, the Secretary of State indicated that Ministers would take account of views provided on a cross-community basis. Will he colour in the difference between taking account of views and abiding by them?
On the hon. Gentleman's question about changes to strands 1 to 3 of the Good Friday agreement, despite his opposition to my taking powers through Order in Council, the reason I was planning to do so is that I am concerned about running up against the deadline and making the changes in time. There will be a brief spill-over period after we come back in October before Parliament prorogues and then an equally brief time after Queen's SpeechI do not yet know the date, but
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Members can imagine the timetablebefore we reach 24 November. I was concerned about having enough scope to take through emergency legislation, but if that is what we have to do, we shall have to try.
However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we shall have to make changes in the strands to get all the parties together. There is no point in keeping our heads in the sand. The DUP has a mandate and has made it absolutely clear that it requires changes, and I acknowledge that. The Government stand ready to make those changes once we can achieve agreement on them, and that will require legislation. As I said, I would have preferred to have done that a little more easily through an Order in Council, on which I would have consulted widely and sought agreement, but obviously separate primary legislation will be necessary. Let us hope that, given the timetable, we can make things dovetail.
On standing orders, the Secretary of Statein other words myselfwill have responsibility for drawing them up, as happened last time. We want to consult all the parties about them in detail, especially the Northern Ireland parties that will be in pole position, to try to reach agreement. The Assembly can of course amend the standing orders, as it can confirm or reject my nomination of Eileen Bell as the Speaker; the question of any deputies to be appointed will also be provided for in the Bill.
I do not envisage any new status for north-south co-operation during this period, but we will, of course, continue to do what we have been doing energetically for the past year and indeed before to gain everyone's support for co-operation on the economy and a range of other matters. We will discuss the possible shape of additional north-south co-operation, but we do not want to get into the business of pre-empting that. We want the Assembly and the institutions restored, and we want north-south co-operation to proceed on basis that it has successfully done so recently.
Obviously, an order will be introduced fairly soon on water charges, and I will want to take into account everything that the Assembly might want to say about that, particularly views that command cross-community support in the Assembly and that address the public expenditure consequences of adopting a different approach. Of course, if the Assembly voted unanimously to reject water charges, I would have to take account of that, but I would want to know where we would find the £200 million or so of extra public expenditure generated by those water charges and where we would get the finance to invest in Northern Ireland's decaying sewerage and water system. Finding those answers would be the responsibility of anyone who addresses the issue in the Assembly.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the IMC's statement that the IRA no longer presents a terrorist threat, but we share the Secretary of State's concern and, indeed, that of the Conservative spokesperson regarding the ongoing involvement of paramilitaries in criminal activity. Can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that the Government still regard organised paramilitary crime as a breach of ceasefire?
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On the Government's clear targets for the Assembly's reconstitution, we also agree that decisions on matters such as health, transport and education are best taken locally, by locally elected politicians. I must press the Secretary of State to answer the questions that he has already been asked. Rather than saying that he would take account of a unanimous view of a reconstituted and properly functioning Assembly, why does he not give us an assurance that the Government will respond literally to cross-party opposition to, for example, the introduction of tuition fees in Northern Ireland, which he knows commanded the unanimous opposition of parties in Northern Ireland?
Can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that, if a reconstituted Assembly were to vote unanimously in opposition to, for example, tuition fees, the Government would repeal those fees? Similarly, can he be a bit more specific about what he means by taking account of the views of Northern Ireland politicians in a reconstituted Assembly on the profound changes proposed to the secondary system of selection? Can he assure us that, rather than simply taking account of and then ignoring the Assembly's views, the Government will act on them, even if the Government are forced to act differently in Northern Ireland from the way in which they have acted in England and Wales?
Finally, if this latest effort is to restore the Assembly properly, the Government must establish round-table and inclusive negotiations that genuinely involve all political parties. There must be no question of secret side deals, with one or two parties. Does the Secretary of State recognise therefore that, to achieve a permanent solution, all parties must be involved. Indeed, different deals with different parties undermine the talks process. If the Government want to achieve a lasting settlement, they must ensure that everyone works together, even if that is more time consuming than the quick-fix solutions that we have seen in the past. Although I have always been an optimist about the peace process, I have sometimes been a cynic about the Government's plans, because of the temptation to seek tactical answers in a strategic debate. If the Secretary of State can confirm that inclusive talks really are all-party talks and that they will be truly transparent and not involve secret, unwritten or written unilateral deals with individual parties, he can be most certainly assured of Liberal Democrat support.
Mr. Hain: I am grateful for that. I can confirm immediately that the talks will be genuinely all-party. Whatever happened in the past and whatever the arguments about that are, given the distrust that has set in over the past couple of years, we cannot proceed without all-party, inclusive negotiations. That would include the Alliance party, as well as all the other major parties in Northern Ireland.
I agree that there is still too much criminalityby loyalist paramilitaries and republican paramilitaries. That must be stopped. I find it encouraging that the leadership of both Sinn Fein and the IRA have said that they condemn it as wellthe hon. Gentleman can make of that what he wishes. At least it is a positive agreement with the point of view that he was putting forward.
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On education reforms, I was slightly surprised to hear an avowedly progressive party such as the Liberal Democrats standing absolutely solid by the 11-plus, as though it were the fount of all educational opportunity. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are talking about a decision on a child's future at age 10 or 11, which is taken as a result of a short test on one day, when that child's parents might have had an argument over breakfast or there might have been a riot overnight. That test can open the gate to a child's future, if they pass it, or close it shutin some cases for good. That is not a defensible position for any progressive politician.
There has been a long period of consultation and the matter has been given much consideration. It is in the interest of parents, pupils and schools that we settle the issue to provide long-term clarity. Howeverthis addresses the points that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) madethere are a wide range of other issues that will need to be addressed: the pupil profile, the curriculum content, the entitlement framework and so on. Those issues will all have to be the subject of subsequent orders. I hope that those decisions will be taken by the Assembly itself.
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