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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 April 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Renewable Energy

1. Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): What steps he is taking to enable the use of waste to provide energy in Northern Ireland. [64523]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched the £59 million environment and renewable energy fund, which includes an allocation of £18 million for the development of energy from waste.

Jeff Ennis: I thank my hon. Friend for that positive reply. Can she give the House an assurance that renewables will be at the heart of future electricity generation in Northern Ireland?

Angela E. Smith: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. The key objectives of the energy market is that the energy supply is competitive, sustainable and reliable. The reliability of supply is fundamental. In addition to the £59 million from the renewable energy fund launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, £150 million from a new private sector fund for renewable energy has also been announced. That gives an indication of how crucial renewables are to energy generation and how important we think it is to focus on them.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): As well as needing to diversify our energy generation, there is also a need to address the issue of waste management in Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware of a recent report by the Belfast Hills Partnership, which raised serious concerns about the proliferation of landfill sites in the Belfast hills, and the potential long-term damage that that will do to the environment. Will she take that into account in pushing forward an agenda for renewable energy, including the use of waste in energy generation?

Angela E. Smith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. As he knows, I met residents of the area some time ago to discuss their concerns. It is important that
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we look at energy regeneration to see how we can address the waste problem. It is not sustainable for us to keep digging holes in the ground and piling waste into them. If we can find alternative ways to use that waste which lead to a cut in the cost of electricity as well, that would be an important contribution to the environmental debate.

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): Is the Minister aware that the biggest problem with waste management in Northern Ireland is the total failure of Government Departments, specifically the Department of the Environment, to offer the option of purchase or re-use of construction waste? That has been a failure for some time. Can the Minister give us some assurance that that issue will be tackled?

Angela E. Smith: The Minister with responsibility for the environment, my noble Friend Lord Rooker, is keen to ensure that we tackle all waste streams. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to his attention.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): Since North Down borough council is planning to have a new state of the art waste treatment centre up and running next year, would the Minister kindly agree to meet representatives of the council to discuss the much needed funding of the solar panels needed for that project?

Angela E. Smith: At this stage in the process, no projects have been agreed, but I would be happy to meet representatives from the council, particularly as they seem to be so forward-looking at how we can produce energy from environmental sources.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): The hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff   Ennis) is correct to stress the importance of renewable energy. In Great Britain, we produce only slightly more than 3 per cent. of our electricity from renewable sources, in spite of an existing renewables obligation. What can the Government do to ensure that the performance in Northern Ireland will be better than it is in Great Britain? In Northern Ireland only 3 per cent. of electricity is produced from renewable sources. We need to increase that figure. What can the Government do to ensure that that percentage share increases quicker in Northern Ireland than it has done in Great Britain?

Angela E. Smith: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear the first answer that I gave. The announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of the new £59 million fund has already levered in £150 million. That shows the determination of Government to put our money where our commitment is. We have made that money available and made a financial commitment to renewables projects, and the hon. Gentleman will see the impact of that. I hope he will not vote against the increase in the budget for renewables.


2. Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): What estimate he has made of the quantities of arms and explosives put beyond use by the Provisional
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IRA in each of the acts of decommissioning that took place between October 2001 and September 2005. [64524]

6. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): What estimate he has made of the quantities of arms and explosives put beyond use by the Provisional IRA in each of the acts of decommissioning that took place between October 2001 and September 2005. [64528]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): In September last year, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning witnessed a momentous act of decommissioning, and declared in January that "all the arms under the IRA's control were decommissioned in September", under its supervision. The 10th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission published earlier today states that any weapons reported as having been retained

It goes on to say that

Mr. Lancaster: Given that the Secretary of State has just acknowledged that some weapons may have been retained by IRA cells, does he still consider those IRA cells to be a terrorist threat, and if not, why not?

Mr. Hain: The IMC is the definitive body on that matter, so the hon. Gentleman does not have to take my word for it, and it has expressly said that the IRA poses no terrorist threat at all. Para 2.15 of the report states:

That is a definitive statement, and I could quote many others. The IMC says that the IRA poses no terrorist, violent or paramilitary threat, and I endorse the IMC report.

Mr. Dunne: What reassurances can the Secretary of State give that renegade paramilitary groups will also get involved in decommissioning? And what guidance can he give to this House that those who are complying will provide information to the police on those renegade groups?

Mr. Hain: I assume that the hon. Gentleman is not talking about the Continuity IRA or the Real IRA. Those dissident groups are still a problem, as we saw when CIRA members planted a bomb in Lurgan only the other week. I assume that he is talking about IRA members who may not be in full compliance with the leadership's line. I invite him to read the IMC report, which states that

which is the strategy of democratic politics and a peaceful objective.
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We must look at the IMC report in the context of what has been a positive and historic change. We should welcome the finding by the IMC, which is a respected independent body, that the IRA has abandoned its previous activities of violence, paramilitary action and terrorism.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Secretary of State will be aware that the policy of the united voice of the Unionist people insisting that criminality must cease is taking effect, and we welcome the effect that it is taking. Does he feel that the Government should make a full statement listing the number of arms that have been surrendered by the IRA and change the policy that gives the general the right not to mention the number of weapons that have been decommissioned?

Mr. Hain: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point that the united pressure from the Unionist community and, for that matter, all parties in this House to end the violence and criminality is having an effect, which the IMC has reported. On the number of arms that have been decommissioned, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has made it clear that when all paramilitary groups, including loyalist groups, have decommissioned, it will publish a full inventory, but we need to wait for that to happen.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is it not abundantly clear that criminality has not ceased? Does the Secretary of State agree that it is inconceivable that those involved in criminality should be involved in the government of any part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hain: The IMC report is interesting and welcome, and it reflects the pressure exerted by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and by the hon. Gentleman in his capacity as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The association between criminality, paramilitary groups and politics must disappear from Northern Ireland. Paragraph 2.16 of the IMC report states:

In other words, as regards the hon. Gentleman's point that there should be no criminality associated with the IRA, which has been repeatedly demanded by Members of this House, that appears now to be the case according to the IMC, although some local members may still be defying the leadership's line and engaging in it, in which case we will bear down on them as we have done in recent months.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the IMC report on criminality is a step in the right direction? When he comes to the
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Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, will he discuss with us information that we have received about some worrying concerns that have been expressed by senior members of the security forces?

Mr. Hain: Of course. I take heart not only from the direction that the IMC reports today about an end to criminality by members of the Provisional IRA, but from a very significant statement issued by the IRA over Easter, in which it says:

That is an important statement and we will make sure that everybody is held to it.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Like the Secretary of State, I welcome the good news in today's IMC report. However, paragraph 2.17 of the report makes it clear that the weapons that were not decommissioned are not under the control of the Provisional IRA's leadership. That being the case, is the Secretary of State confident that the people who hold on to those weapons do not themselves pose a terrorist threat? What other reason could they have for failing to decommission them?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. I know that he is just as concerned about this matter as I am and that he has raised it repeatedly on the Floor of the House, as he is fully entitled to and is proper. All that I can go by is the IMC report. It is the definitive body in this respect. It has said that the IRA poses no terrorist threat, and it has taken into account the full totality of the picture, including the points that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Lidington: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. I, too, welcomed the statement by the leader of Sinn Fein and by the IRA leadership over Easter. Does he agree, however, that it should be the duty of any politician who is committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of pursuing their objectives to ensure that any act of criminality or withholding of illegal arms should be reported to the police so that proper criminal proceedings can then take place?

Mr. Hain: Everybody, especially elected politicians—that is a point that the hon. Gentleman has consistently made, and I agree with him—or those seeking ministerial office should indeed comply fully with the police. If they know of criminality, they ought to report it—absolutely. I take heart from the statements made not only by the IRA leadership, but by the president of Sinn Fein, in repeatedly condemning criminality and saying that it has no part in a future for republicans.

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