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Gordon Banks: The IMC report published today makes the point that the majority of forced exiles are made by loyalists, not republicans.
Mr. Robertson: I do not disagree, but those people are not represented by a political party that will assume Government office in Northern Ireland. I am not trying to be negative, as I have a point to make. The report goes on to say that
"there are indications that some members, including some senior ones . . . are still involved in crime".
The report lists those crimes. It is unfair to expect law-abiding constitutional politicians from the Unionist community and from the SDLP to sit alongside people who are supposedly politicians by day, but are terrorists by night.
A further point concerns me. About two years ago I had a discussion with Seamus Mallon, a respected former Member of this House and also a former Deputy First Minister. He said that in his area Sinn Fein had 200 paid activists. Where did that money come from? The Minister who is to respond to the debate has a respectable majority of just over 6,000, but how would he like it if there were 200 paid activists in his constituency trying to get rid of him? That is not fair politics, and it must be addressed, alongside the fact that Unionist and SDLP politicians are being asked to work with people who might be engaging in violence and terrorist activities at night. It is not fair. If that is not tackled, the Assembly will fail, and I do not want to see that happen.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
Not only is the situation that my hon. Friend outlines manifestly unfair; it would be illegal.
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Mr. Robertson: Totally illegal, as my hon. Friend observes.
I shall close now, to give the Minister a chance to respond to the many points that have been made by right hon. and hon. Members. I finish where I started. I wish the Assembly well. I hope it gets up and running. In order to succeed, it needs to discuss meaningful matters. It must be built on rock, rather than on sand. It has to be sustainable and, over and above anything else, it must be filled with Members who are wholly and exclusively committed to democratic means.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): The debate has been largely good-tempered, which I cannot often say about Northern Ireland debates in the House. From all parts of the House we have had a positive and constructive debate. We even had a voluntary agreement on time sharing, which is a positive step. I hope it will lead to power sharing in due course. We even had something that we do not often have on Northern Ireland business: the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) engaged in normal politics, talking about matters such as taxation and expenditure. I hope that ultimately the Assembly will also get back to discussing such topics.
The message from today's excellent debate has been clear. Now is the time for parties in Northern Ireland to demonstrate leadership by going back into the Assembly to form an Executive and a Government in due course. I am heartened by the way that the parties approached the debate, by the positive response to the Bill that we heard from all parts of the House, and by the constructive attitude of hon. Members towards the potential establishment of the Assembly.
I thank the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for the support of the official Opposition for the Government's proposals. I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for the support of the Liberal Democrats. I thank the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who approached the debate with a positive, constructive attitude. I pay tribute to him. It is the first time, I think, that he has spoken in a debate since his 80th birthday. He seems to be reinvigorated on every occasion that he speaks in the House. I wish him well in his continued deliberations on these matters.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), the Chair of the Select Committee, who also approached the debate in a positive way, as have Members from all parts of the House who spoke today. It is heartening that everyone who took part in the debate spoke in favour of devolution for the people of Northern Ireland. The only argument has been about the conditions and about how and when that will occur. All sides accept the principle of devolution. The Bill is about how we achieve it.
That is important for the reason given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). As a previous Secretary of State, he knows better than anybody else, apart from my right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State, the difficulties of managing devolution as a direct-rule Minister. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, my hon. Friend the
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Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the right hon. Member for North Antrim and the hon. Members for Foyle, for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady) have said, when I deal with Northern Ireland business, I do so as a Member of Parliament who is elected in Wales with a 6,500 majoritymy majority has reduced over the past few years due to factors outside my control. I speak on behalf of the Government, but there are no crosses against my party's name, and, unlike Assembly Members, I do not have the mandate of being removable by the people of Northern Ireland.
Today's debate and the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has conducted outside this Chamber about the potential for devolution show that there are real grounds for optimism and that real efforts have been made to make the Assembly operate positively and constructively. Although I recognise the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) about the different nature of the Assembly, I hope that we will move quickly to the permanent restoration mentioned by the hon. Member for Foyle. There is an overwhelming wish in Northern Ireland for devolution to occur and for the parties to co-operate, but I do not underestimate the challenges that the parties face.
I have listened to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson), and I know about the contributions that the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) has made in the past, so I know that those Members' constituents have faced challenges, tragedies and terrorist acts every day for the past 30 years and more. As hon. Members have said, I know that it is difficult for them to enter a coalition with people who have undertaken the type of acts to which the hon. Member for Upper Bann has referred. In my view, however, it is the best possible option for the future of Northern Ireland for those people to work together with the civil service to manage the billions of pounds of expenditure in Northern Ireland. That money is being provided by the British Government and distributed by British Ministers, but there are local priorities, and I think it is important that we consider that point.
In setting out the challenge of devolution in simple, straightforward terms, I am not seeking to minimise in any way, shape or form the concerns and hesitations. As hon. Members have said, trust is a key element. As the right hon. Member for North Antrim and the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) and for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) have said, the conditions are not right at the moment, and I understand that concern, to which the hon. Members for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and for South Staffordshire have also referred. I know that there are real issues of trust and confidence, and I listened carefully when the hon. Member for East Londonderry elucidated them.
We are moving in the right direction. The hon. Member for Aylesbury has already quoted this section of today's IMC report:
"It remains our absolutely clear view that the PIRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path. It is working to bring the whole organisation fully along with it and has expended considerable effort to refocus the movement in support of its objective. In the last three months this process has involved the further dismantling of PIRA as a military structure."
My hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) recognised those points in their contributions.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has said that progress has been made, but that more progress needs to be made. I agree with him and hope to see that happen, but there is evidence that progress is already being made.
Mr. Winnick: Will my hon. Friend reinforce a point that I made in an earlier intervention? Those of us who want to see progress in Northern Ireland, who are in favour of the Belfast agreement and who want to see devolution applied as quickly as possible were no less opposed to terrorism from day one than the DUP and the other parties in Northern Ireland which are represented in the House of Commons.
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