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David Simpson: We have talked about the dissidents, which is a lose word. Such information must not be passed on to benefit terrorismSlab Murphy and the rest of them up in south Armaghso we have a difficulty. I used the word "tantalising" earlier; the word that we need to emphasise is trust. That is a big factor in setting up the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I sat in my own council meeting on Monday night, and when I referred to the bomb in Lurgan, a Sinn Fein-IRA representative stood up and said, "The bomb should not have happened, and I would ask those in the Lurgan area to stop it." However, when I put the question through the mayor to ask the Sinn Fein-IRA representative to tell his people to go to the PSNI station in Lurgan and give all the information that the police need to collect a lot more of those people, there was silence; and we are talking about moving to a full-blown Executive or whatever come 24 November. There is a long, long way to go. If it was wrongmy hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) used words to this effectto put murderers, drug dealers, paramilitaries or child killers or whatever into government last year, it is wrong this year. There is no difference, because they have not yet changed.
I want to move on in the time that is left to my portfolio as my party's trade and industry spokesman. I have been involved in the business community for some 25 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley referred to leading a delegation yesterday to meet the Secretary of State. I had the privilege yesterday, along with other hon. Members, to attend that conference and I had been asked to speak there. I am sure that the Secretary of State has been briefed on what I have said about him in the newsletter. I am sure that he is not very happy about it. Basically, I said that, if the Secretary of State were the boss or the chief executive of a firm, he would be sacked. That is because of the de-rating issue and the difficulties that the business community is going through.
I count it a privilege to be elected to this House. Having been involved in the business community for 20 or 25 years, I knew a lot of the business people who gathered together yesterday. I would like to think that, in my capacity in this House, I could use my influence to try to help those business people who have come through 35 years of the most hellish conditions, through the troubles and through financial difficulties.
The Secretary of State may throw the responsibility back, as he is prone to do, and say, "Get the Executive up and running and deal with the whole de-rating issue and all the other issues." However, with the greatest respect, it is within his power to do something about the situation now. The manufacturing and textile communities are decimated. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley, I ask the Secretary of State to look seriously at doing something about that.
I received a delegation, as the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) mentioned, and it
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was impressive. The arguments that were mounted were cogent and well presented and I have said that I will seriously consider them. The argument was for a freeze at the present level. I have also said that I would be happy to refer the matter to the Assemblyin the form that that is about to happenfor its own consideration, as well, and would take note of what was said there.
In conclusion, I personally want to see things move on in Northern Ireland. As I have mentioned in the House before on many occasions, I adopted three children to bring them into this country and to try to give them a better life. I want to see that happen; I want it to happen for all the young people in Northern Ireland, irrespective of the community they come from. They are the next generation and how the next generation operates is going to dictate the future of Northern Ireland. I wish that for all the people of Northern Ireland. I know that the leadership of my party wishes it and I will certainly do everything in my power to assist that.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): We have had an extremely interesting debate on yet another Northern Ireland Bill, which was, yet again, introduced in reasonable tones by the Secretary of State, who, if I may be permitted to say so, made a number of telling and important points. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) set out clearly and movingly our views and difficulties, but also our hopes for this Bill's capacity to achieve devolution and a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. Those are my views as well. I have never made any secret of the fact that eight years ago I voted against a number of aspects of the Belfast agreement, but one of the things that I was enthusiastic about was devolution. I remain hopeful that we can set up the Assembly again.
We have heard a number of contributions from right hon. and hon. Members, which I shall run through fairly quickly. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) feels that it would be disastrous if the process did not succeed. He said that he felt very uncomfortable as a direct rule Minister. When I work on the many statutory instrumentsas I do seemingly almost every day at the momentI too feel uncomfortable, so I well understand what he feels, and means. I share his hopes for the Assembly.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who serves on most, if not all, of those Committees with me, wondered whether this year's Assembly would be able to change some of the decisions made by order of the Secretary of State, so perhaps the Minister will respond to that point. He also made the good point that the shifting of deadlines in the past is perhaps not helpful now, and I am sure that the Government will take that on board. He also made an
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important point about what will happen if the Assembly does not get up and running and full devolution is not restoredI hope very much that it will be restored. Although I know that the Government have taken steps to address the situation, we cannot go on governing Northern Ireland as we are doing. I hope that we can move forward through devolution and the Assembly, but if that is not possible, we need to redouble our efforts to find a better way of governing the Province.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) regrets that the Bill does not go further, and opposes giving the Secretary of State the power to delay the elections from 2007 to 2008. As I indicated in an intervention on the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), I am concerned about that measure and have tabled an amendment that will give us the opportunity to discuss it tomorrow. I understand that the Government are saying that if the Assembly is not up and running until November, we may not want to disrupt things so quickly. That is a rather pessimistic view, because the Assembly may be up and running again by Maywe all hope that it will bein which case elections in 2007 would not come too quickly. However, we can explore that matter in a bit more detail tomorrow.
I welcome the enthusiasm for the Bill of the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in his typically robust speech. It is important to note that he paid tribute to the Members of the Legislative Assembly and the work that they have done. He correctly pointed out that it was not the democratic constitutional parties that needed to change, but the IRA.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) said that he was probably the only person in the House, other than those from Northern Ireland, who had had a mandate from Northern Ireland. He has recently served on many Northern Ireland Committees.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, sensibly called for there to be no more unnecessary statutory instruments before the Assembly is up and running. He also expressed worry about setting deadlines, and said that this particular deadline should perhaps be the end of the year. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) talked about trust and having a vision for the future.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made the important point that there should be no joint sovereignty if things fail by 24 November. I know that the Secretary of State has tried to play down several reports on the comments that he is supposed to have made, but I was in America at the time and heard reports about those comments. The Secretary of State suggested in his statement to the House last week that even if the Assembly is not up and running by 24 November, there should be a strengthening of cross-border bodies. I would be worried if we had the one without the other.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said how important it was for Northern Ireland to have an Assembly, and made a comparison with London and the London Mayor. I am not sure that I approve of the analogy, but think that I know what was she was getting at. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) made the good and
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important point that Sinn Fein needs to change its mode of behaviour to enable any support for the police to be credible.
I apologise that unfortunately, I missed the speech by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) because I had to slip out of the Chamber for a few moments. I understand that he gave strong support to the Good Friday agreement and said that there was a need to preserve it.
I have already touched on the speech made by the hon. Member for North Down. She objected to the postponement of the scheduled elections and to the fact that the Bill gives the Secretary of State more power. A consistent theme of several recent Bills has been the inclusion of a clause that allows the Secretary of State to change many things. I share the hon. Lady's concern, but perhaps we can discuss that in more detail in Committee tomorrow.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) made a good point, which I endorse, that it is not the DUP that needs to change, but the people who are in the way of democratic government in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) wants the Government to respond to the views expressed by the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. That is extremely important, given the significance of legislation that has recently been passed by order. Last week, for example, the number of councils was reduced from 26 to seven, with the support of Sinn Fein alone among the political parties. If the Assembly, once it is up and running, does not find that acceptable, I hope that the Secretary of State will take note of its opinion.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) rightly said that the institutions must be based on democracy and that the Assembly must be built on rock, not sand. That is a very important statement to make. The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said that in future he does not want any family to suffer what families have previously suffered. Everyone in the House should share that objective. He expressed a determination to make the process work. I have known him for many years, not only as a political colleague but as a close friend, and I know that that is the case. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) called for a sustainable Assembly, not one that is likely to falter. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) spoke about the difficulty of having to work with someone who authorised the assassination of four members of his family. It is hard for me to appreciate how difficult that is, but I admire his courage and determination to do so, to make the process work.
As I said at the outset, I have served on many Delegated Legislation and Northern Ireland Bill Committees. Almost every day this week, and last week, I attended such Committees. Goodness knows what will happen when we return next week, but there is a Delegated Legislation Committee the Tuesday after bank holiday Monday. That is a most unsatisfactory way of deciding policies and legislation for Northern Ireland. When the Assembly is up and running, it must be allowed to discuss those important issues. It must be worth while, or it will falter, which is not what I want, and I do not think it is what anyone in the House wants.
When we ask Unionist parties to serve in the Assembly and, more particularly, on the Executive it is important to ensure that they are dealing with people
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who have given up violence entirely. The Independent Monitoring Commission report has been discussed today, and without seeking to be negative, I want to deal with a couple of points that it makes. Paragraph 2.12 states:
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