|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I intervene because the impression may be given that the DUP has some sort of monopoly on combating terrorism. We know how people in Northern Ireland sufferedno doubt DUP members, as wellbut does the hon. Gentleman accept that the fight against terrorism was sustained in the House of Commons by those then on the Opposition Benches, as well, obviously, as by the then Government? Does he accept that those of us who had various viewsvery different from hisabout Northern Ireland and its future, made clear from day one our absolute opposition to terrorism and our belief that neither the IRA, nor the loyalist paramilitaries, had any justification for the mass murder, the killings and the serious injuries that were sustained?
Mr. Campbell: I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's repeated opposition to the use of violence. However, I have to contrast that view with the propositions of various Governments who have accommodated terror. Unfortunately, there have been votes in the House through which people have tried to buy off terrorists, so I must contrast those two positions.
I must conclude, to allow other hon. Members to enter the debate. We all hope that progress can be made. We will knuckle down to getting to grips with important issues such as the reform of public administration, education and the water tax. People expect their public representatives to be dealing with all those matters, so we must, and will, deal with them. However, a crunch point will come, whether at midnight on 24 November or sooner.
That crunch point will be whether the elected representatives of the majority of Unionism are prepared to proceed into government with people who are still engaging in criminality and illegal activity, such as fuel smuggling and money laundering. When that crunch time occurs, there will be absolutely no doubt whatever about the response from this party. We will
26 Apr 2006 : Column 650
not enter the Executive if that is the position of those people at the time, or subsequently. What was wrong five, 10, or 15 years ago will be wrong next year, never mind on 24 November. When we get a democratised Sinn Fein and democracy rules in the Northern Ireland Assembly, we will embrace that and enter wholeheartedly.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): The Bill is one of the many initiatives introduced by the two Governments to try to end the suspension and get restoration. As a gesture of good will, I immediately offer a voluntary coalition and partnership with the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) by limiting my remarks to 10 minutes. With that modest start, I hope that from an acorn, an oak tree will growbut that remains to be seen.
I assure the Government and hon. Members that the Social Democratic and Labour party wants to live up to all aspects of the Good Friday agreement, which, we must recall, was not selective, but all-embracing, for the good of all the people of Northern Ireland and the greater good of all the people of the entire island of Ireland. Much as our Members of the Legislative Assembly are criticised, sometimes very unfairly, they, like MLAs of other parties, work assiduously in their constituencies. However, they want to work assiduously as elected representatives in an elected forum to deal with the matters before us today. The SDLP will do everything in its power to grasp this opportunity and ensure that there is a push, a drive and a dialogueperhaps compromise will be needed all roundto achieve a devolved Administration, we hope long before the deadline of 24 November.
My objection to deadlines is not that they set a specific target, but that they give people the excuse to wait until the eleventh hour of the last day. It would be regrettable if that happened. When everything is analysed, there is a fair possibility that elected Members of all the parties in Northern Ireland could come to a meaningful agreement before the summer recess. I have heard what DUP Members have said about making benchmarks against progress regarding paramilitaries.
Perhaps because it is not emphasised sufficiently, it is often forgotten that the nationalist community suffered as much from the Provisional IRA and the loyalists as any other group in Northern Irelandin many cases, much more. None the less, we have a responsibility, given the tremendous change in circumstances in the past 10 years, to take some things on faith. We have more faith than we had in the past, and we must ensure that the distrust that has grown up between the parties and that has been nurtured by them is diminished as much as possible. Sometimes the parties themselves do not engender trust, and the Irish and British Governments have made a major contribution to that distrust. If round-table openness in negotiations is not forthcoming and private deals are done at Downing street or Leinster house in Dublin, that will create more distrust and suspicion than the parties themselves can create.
I make a special plea to the British Government, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to refrain from engaging in the cloak-and-dagger arrangements
26 Apr 2006 : Column 651
that have been the privilege of the two partiesthe DUP and Sinn Fein. It is not a question of sour grapes, as the evolution of trust is a practical requirement. I remind the House that the comprehensive agreement was neither comprehensive nor an agreement. The flyleaf at the beginning contained one sentence which, as I recall, said, "The British and Irish Governments have prepared this comprehensive agreement and submitted it to Sinn Fein and the DUP." All other parties were excluded from that endeavour, and the agreement was not even addressed to them.
I therefore make an earnest plea to the Government not to engage in the kind of dialogue in which they have previously engaged because, as Members have already said, there is an extremely serious situation in Northern Ireland. On many occasions back home, I have said that by 2008 or 2009 our way of life in Northern Ireland will change dramatically, given the reform of local government, education, housing, rating, water charges and so on. However, not a single vote for any of those changes has been cast by a Northern Ireland party.
The suggestion that such a huge social transformation could take place in that way in any other country or part of the United Kingdom would be regarded as ludicrous, but those massive changes have indeed taken place in Northern Ireland. Time and time again, the parties in Northern Ireland have demonstrated unanimity in their opposition, but the heat was not taken off. That is why I asked the Secretary of State what he meant by saying that he will "take account" of the Assembly's opinion on certain matters referred to it. Using the yardstick of education, the reform of public administration and matters such as student fees, water rates and rate revisions, it is clear that the parties of Northern Ireland oppose what the Government have done. We wanted to do things differently, but we were ignored. If that happens in the Assembly, it will become a talking shop that pretends to be able to influence matters while the reality is that all the decisions are still made by the Northern Ireland Office.
That is why I say that if the parties cannot get together by agreement, extending the process into November is a danger in itself. The failure to deliver agreement under the Good Friday agreement can have certain benefits for the DUP, which might see it as the final nail in the coffin of the Good Friday agreement and might want nothing further, being content to sit on the Opposition Benchesor it may have benefits for Sinn Fein, which has other political objectives in mind, particularly concentrating its political efforts on the campaign for the new Dail, which takes place early next year.
The people who will suffer are the people of Northern Ireland who, God knows and we all agree, have suffered enough. Unless we have the honest intention of getting together and participating in devolution together, we will be damned for all eternity. For exampleI must be brief, in order to keep to my partnership with the hon. Member for Belfast, Eastthe greatest single danger to the future of Northern Ireland is what the Government are doing about the reform of public administration.
That has been called the cantonisation, or balkanisation, of Northern Ireland, which will be split by a line running north to south. The area to the west will be green. The area to the east will be blue or orange,
26 Apr 2006 : Column 652
depending on which lodge people are in. That will be a huge drawback for the people of Northern Ireland. It is the blueprint for division, separation and sectarianism. I beg the Government to stand back from that and take cognisance of the opinions of the local people, who do not oppose the reform of public administration if that is done in a meaningful, effective and democratic way. That is the last thing that I shall say in my speech, but to me it is the most important. It is the driving force which should get us all together to prevent it from happening.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am grateful to be called to speak on the Second Reading of such an important Bill. As the Minister and hon. Members will have gleaned from the number of interventions that I have made, I shall speak against the Bill. For obvious logistical reasons, I will not divide the House this evening. Not only would I lose, but more importantly, I would not able to supply the Tellers. I pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist Members who supplied the Tellers last week in Committee, when we were debating amendments that I had tabled. However, this is a different week and a different subject.
The right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) welcomed the Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for calling into question the amount of Executive power being taken by the Government in the Bill. As I said, I shall speak against the Bill but will not divide the House, so any hon. Member who needs to fulfil an engagement later can do so.
I am disturbed by a pattern adopted by the Governmenta pattern whereby they use the ends to justify the means. In doing so, they take to themselves an enormous amount of Executive power. In opening the debate, the Secretary of State mentioned the peace process, the restoration of devolved government and direct rule. Those are all laudable aims. Although I loathe and detest direct rule, I take no exception to any of those laudable aims. I do, however, take grave exception to the Bill, for three reasons. We are being asked to approve not the lifting of the suspension, but the creation of a completely new creature, which has, unfortunately, been christened, "the Assembly". It is not a shadow Assembly or a devolved Assembly, and it includes the same 108 Assembly MembersI am not one of them, but I have enormous regard for them, regardless of their party.
The Secretary of State has indicated that he does not regret christening the new creature "the Assembly". What will the new creature do? It can talk and think about electing a First Minister, a Deputy Minister and Executive Ministers, and if it is very lucky, it can also discuss such other matters as the Secretary of State thinks fit. In other words, 108 noble Assembly Members must sit and wait for the crumbs to fall from the Secretary of State in order to discuss anything. What will be the effect of any of their debates or resolutions?
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has discussed the review of public administration, on which the resolutions of the Assembly will have no effect whatsoever. Very soon, people in Northern Ireland will discover that the new Assembly cannot introduce legislation to, for example, monitor sex offenders, save
26 Apr 2006 : Column 653
grammar schools or roll back the review of public administration. The public could become disenchanted with the Assembly and the devolved Administration generally, which would cause me great concern. I hope that other hon. Members are also concerned about the public feeling disillusioned with attempts to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.
"There can be no more crucial issue in any democratic society than maintaining the purity of the electoral process, and there is no more serious constitutional matter than a Government stepping in to abort a democratic election."[Official Report, 14 May 2003; Vol. 405, c. 422.]
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|