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Stephen Pound: The description "Oglaigh Na hEireann" was in fact used for a different army on a number of occasions, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. I repeat—I hope for the last time—that I cannot speak for another political party; indeed, I can scarcely speak for my own on many occasions. I say, in a sincere attempt to cut through the mist and obfuscation and the terrible dead weight of the past that hangs so heavily on our shoulders, that were I faced with choosing between an individual committing acts of terrorism or them being in a state legislature, choosing the latter option might well stick in my craw. I accept that entirely, and I cannot say too often how much I understand the difficulties that Northern Ireland Members have faced over the years, but given the choice of such a person being at the Dispatch Box or wielding a nail bomb, I am absolutely sure which I prefer.

Winston Silcott, the man accused of the appalling murder of PC Keith Blakelock at Broadwater Farm, was later released from prison and took part in a youth diversion programme in the borough of Haringey. People said exactly the same thing then: how can somebody accused of such a crime now be on the side of law and order? However, I am delighted at every sinner who repents. [Interruption.] I appreciate that we are moving away from the subject for debate, and before
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your eyebrows rise any higher, Sir Michael, I will return to the point at hand. I say with the deepest respect to the hon. Member for North Down that she has made the mistake of confusing policy and personalities. If Sinn Fein were not involved and there were no Provisional IRA, nobody would be talking about constantly raising the bar in this way. What we are talking about is a disqualification mechanism when in fact, we should be thinking of mechanisms for inclusion. We are talking about a way of preventing people from participating in the democratic process when we should be drawing people into that process, and if they bring with them a trail speckled with blood, I must reluctantly accept that that was the past but that this is the future, and people change.

I respectfully suggest that there is enough evidence to indicate that people have changed, although not, in heaven's name, nearly enough to satisfy every Member of the House. I would not be so foolish or presumptuous as to imply that those people have changed completely, but they have changed, so to apply yet another series of filters can only be seen as a force against inclusion.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman try to see our side of the argument by answering this question? Ten or 15 years down the road, would he accept into the Government the people who committed 7/7 in London? Will he balance that with what he is asking us to do? Let us not forget that the Royal Ulster Constabulary was disbanded and its name blackened across the world to satisfy Sinn Fein-IRA, yet even though that was done and we now have the Police Service of Northern Ireland they still do not accept the PSNI, despite 50:50 and the Government turning cartwheels to accommodate every demand put to them. Can the hon. Gentleman understand that we have 3,500 dead in Northern Ireland, most of whom were Protestants, from the Protestant community? That does not take away the fact that it is immoral to murder Catholics too.

Stephen Pound: I do not mean this ungraciously, but the hon. Lady frequently throws a bucket of cold water on us because she shocks us into—[Interruption.] No, I am complimenting the hon. Lady in a roundabout way. She shocks us into facing the realities of the consequences of some of the things we talk about on the Floor of the House. To respond to her question, leaving aside the two facts that the majority of people killed during the 30 years of the troubles were Roman Catholics and that the people who committed 7/7 are all dead, not only would I welcome into the House a disaffected Muslim youth who had been a supporter of the murderous people who committed the crime of 7/7, I would actually drive them to the door if necessary. I do not want people slaughtering my fellow citizens on tubes and buses and if an alternative is to bring them in so that they are not living on the wilder outer fringes of lunacy, where they believe in some nonsense that they can bomb their way into a different world order, I would welcome them.

Dr. McCrea rose—
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Stephen Pound: Sir Michael, I understand the rules of good manners and the rules of debate, and that this one finishes at 6 pm, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea).

Dr. McCrea: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he really want the House to believe that the murderers of 7/7 could come to the House and be good candidates for the position of Home Secretary or Home Office Minister?

Stephen Pound: In making his point so dramatically, the hon. Gentleman rather loses the precision of the point originally made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson). We are not talking about the individual who committed the act—[Hon. Members: "We are."] Not in respect of 7/7; those people are dead. I am talking about a far more dangerous grouping—the people who provide the sea in which terrorist fish swim. Those people are so disaffected—to recognise that that disaffection exists if not necessarily to approve of it—that they see only one route to realise their ambitions. Would I rather see them participating in the democratic process? For heaven's sake, would not every one of us rather see them doing that, even if sometimes, Sir Michael, you have to hold your nose when you look around and see what democracy has thrown up? We may not like the Hamas victory in Palestine, but is not it better that people are participating in the democratic process?

Several hon. Members rose—

Stephen Pound: I have a worrying suspicion that interventions could continue for some time, so I shall conclude on the two most serious points.

I apologise for reiterating the first point, but it bears repetition: at a personal level, I profoundly regret any impression that I or any of my colleagues may ever give that we are less than sympathetic to the reality of life as it has been and is being lived in the north of Ireland. We understand in many cases, even though we may be confused in some cases. We may sometimes be the victims of history or our personal prejudice, but if there is one thing that overarches every syllable that has been uttered in the Chamber over the last two days, if there is one aim and one light that we can surely walk towards, it is the possibility—the prospect—of that shimmering chimera of the future where we can have a peaceful community.

To reach what is not nirvana, but an achievable situation, we have to make some unpleasant decisions. We have to live with some unfortunate facts. We have to live with things with which, frankly, we would rather not live. But the alternative is to be for ever frozen in a bloodstained past with no hope and no future whatever. I am not happy with the situation. I do not like it, and in an ideal world I would have nothing to do with it, but we live in a real world and constantly to tell people, "We will not allow you in unless you tick this box, tick that box, jump this bar and swear that oath," is ultimately prohibitive and negative, and will detract from the one thing that every democrat in the House of Commons wants—a peaceful future for the people of a Province who have suffered for long enough.

Mr. Peter Robinson: May I respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound)?
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Earlier, he indicated his propensity to read Hansard reports of previous sittings. Tomorrow, when he reads his contribution to this debate, he will realise that it did him no credit. He started by struggling and ended by wriggling.

I want to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about the people who will be Ministers for policing and justice in Northern Ireland. They could be chosen—and are likely to be chosen if there are joint Ministers—from those who have engaged in the most heinous crimes imaginable in Northern Ireland. The current Sinn Fein-IRA spokesperson on policing and justice is Gerard Kelly, who, among his achievements, was responsible for the bombing of the Old Bailey and the attempted bombing of New Scotland Yard—policing and justice in one go. The same person was jailed in the Maze prison and led an escape in which one of my constituents was killed by being stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver. That is a person whom we are asked to accept as a Minister for policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) intervened to indicate that the hon. Member for Ealing, North was saying that he would welcome certain people to come into the heart of government in the United Kingdom, and the comparison to be made is exactly as my hon. Friend said: it is like bringing a member of al-Qaeda who has been responsible for terrorist offences into the office of policing and justice as the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom. Not one hon. Member would contemplate that; why should we contemplate it in Northern Ireland? That is what the hon. Gentleman is asking us to do.

What offends the hon. Gentleman, if he is offended by the proposition of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)? She suggests that in the circumstances, given the history of the parties in Northern Ireland, it is proper for people who are to attain that high office, that responsible post in Northern Ireland, to be prepared to pledge themselves to support the police service that they will administer. Is that an outrageous suggestion? Is it so off the wall to expect those who will be responsible for policing and justice in Northern Ireland to say, "We support the police"?

The hon. Gentleman thinks that it is awful to ask those people to pledge themselves in that way. He says that we come to the House and we make pledges, but no one asks us to take a second pledge. Well, he asked me to take a second pledge in Northern Ireland, because he supported the enactment of the Belfast Agreement in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which required a pledge of office to be taken by Ministers in Northern Ireland.

A pledge of office had to be taken, because of the recognition that, in the special circumstances of that Assembly, it was necessary for those Ministers to pledge themselves to certain standards and behaviour. Is there something different in the office of policing and justice? Is it not more required in those circumstances that a pledge of office be taken? I fully support the proposition of the hon. Member for North Down, and I hope that, given the sincerity of Unionist Members and the severity of the criminal and other offences committed in Northern Ireland, the House will consider that it is a necessary requirement for the post that is being discussed.
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2.30 pm

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