Rev. Ian Paisley : It is hard for the people of Northern Ireland to understand exactly what the Government are about. The Government's statements should contain greater clarity about their real intentions.
I regret that this debate began with the leader of the SDLP trying to put blame on certain parties. He suggested that the DUP was going into the Assembly with the aim of ensuring that it is broken up and brought to an end on 26 November. That is not my brand of politics. Down the years, I have attended all the talks to which I have been invited. I was not invited to some of them and my party was treated as a leper, but we always attendedand made our case as strongly as we couldwhen we were invited.
I have no intention of taking my party to the Assembly in order to get the Assembly shut down on 26 November, but the leader of the SDLP missed the point completely. Yesterday, it was accepted on both sides of the House that all parties involved in the talks must agree on the question of democracy. We cannot have people at those talks who want to be members of the Government of Northern Ireland yet stick to their terrorism or to their criminal practices.
That was set out firmly yesterday and it was endorsed by the Secretary of State, who agreed that that must be the keystone to the Assembly. However, if that keystone is not put in place, we cannot enter into discussions with people who have made it known that they are not prepared to be there on the same conditions as everyone else. I resent the suggestion by the leader of the SDLP that the DUP will join the Assembly to get it closed down.
The people who will close down the Assembly will be the ones who do not accept the rules, which are straight and plaineveryone should accept that the Assembly will be a democracy and that Northern Ireland will be ruled like any other part of the UK. Terrorists, those who advocate terrorism and those who are engaged in criminality will not be able to take office. If they are elected by their people, that is all well and good, but they will not be able to hold office until they keep to the rules. If we do not make that clear, we might as well all pack up today. That point must be spelled out over and over again, although one would have thought that it would be taken as read in this United Kingdom.
I resent the suggestion by the SDLP leader that we would be happy to close down the Assembly. This is not about satisfying a particular party; this is about seeking to obtain satisfaction for everyone who is dedicated to democracy. As I have said, I want to see everyone in Northern Ireland enjoying the same privileges, rights, freedoms and enjoyment of democracy as me. That is what we must aim for.
Many aspects of the Assembly are strange. The Standing Orders of the Assembly when it was brought into being were very similar to these orders. In fact, I accuse the Secretary of State of copying those orders, which the UUP and others accepted, so he has reproduced what was foisted on us. A new creature may
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be being formed, but its orders are almost identical to the previous ones. I have not had time to examine the orders because I am awaiting a report from the fellow who is supposed to work for me, but it will be interesting to see the comparison. I note that the Secretary of State is not holding up his hand in the confessional box and confessing that the orders are new.
Rev. Ian Paisley: I believe in confession but I do not believe in absolution, so I cannot absolve the right hon. Gentleman, which would probably take a very long time, but that is a matter for another debate on another day.
We must face up to the fact that the sooner the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives meet with the common purpose of building on a democratic foundation, the sooner we will make progress. If that were to happen, we could make rapid progress.
In the Tea Room today, someone said to me, "You seemed to be in good form yesterday." I replied, "I certainly was, because I believe that yesterday we were striking a note that needed to be struck." I am going into the Assembly with my party to seek with all my strength to get it built on a firm democratic foundation. If we do that, there will be success.
Sir Patrick Cormack : I am sure that all hon. Members echo the words of the right hon. Gentleman. We all hope that there will be a secure democratic foundation and that the proper Assembly can come into being again and exercise its proper functions.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is going to reply to this debate, because he must face up to a number of important facts. He knows that I would not question his good intentions or his personal integrity because I have considerable admiration for the Secretary of State and we have enjoyed a cordial relationship in various capacities in this House. However, he must recognise that he is taking to himself the most enormous powers in this Bill. Whether he aspires to the feathered hat of the pro-consul, or whether he aspires to the uniform of the commissar, he is taking powers that any pro-consul or commissar would be extremely pleased to have.
For a start, the Secretary of State is appointing every member of the body. I support the suggestion from the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that it would be clearer and therefore more honest to call the body something other than "the Assembly""the forum" would be fine. Although it will consist of the members who were elected to the Assembly, it is not the Assemblyit is the Secretary of State's creature, and he is giving himself powers to direct how it shall perform, who shall preside over it and what it shall do. He is also reserving powers to say that if he does not like what happens, he can tell the Assembly to do other things.
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Three democratic parties from Northern Ireland are represented in this House and their credentials are beyond question. I accept that the DUP, the SDLP and the UUP genuinely want the Assembly to succeed, so it is important to take account of what they say. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) has said, the amendments contain a remarkable degree of agreement between the three parties.
There is a perception that the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole pay more attention to the party that is not here than to the parties that are. I hope that the Secretary of State is listening because the point is very importantwhen the Whip has stopped talking to him, he can listen. There is a perception that the party that is not here is more highly regarded and taken greater account of than the parties that are. I am not saying that that is the case; I am saying that that is the perception.
The Secretary of State must make it abundantly clear in what he says today and in the extremely sensitive talks that will take place in the coming weeks that those who play by the rulesthe DUP, the SDLP and the UUPhave a special position which the others can have, if they want it. All the others have to do is what we said yesterday during what was, as the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said, an extremely constructive Second Reading debate.
There was very little disagreement yesterday. There was a unity of desire to see a proper Assembly functioning properly with all its elected Members and a recognition that, in order for that to happen, Sinn Fein has to play by the rules and show that it is so doing. We all welcomed the report by the Independent Monitoring Commission. Everyone, including the right hon. Member for North Antrim and his deputy, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), recognised that there has been real progress, but underlined the continuing, disturbing involvement in criminality among some of those in Sinn Fein that puts in question its aspirations towards democratic credentials.
I hope that the Secretary of State will address those points full on when he deals with the substance of the amendments. As he does so, will he explain why he cannot heed the unity of view between the three Northern Ireland parties represented here on the subject of Orders in Council? The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made that point effectively, persuasively and, if I may say so, persistently, and he was right to do so.
The months between May and November will be vital if we are to reach agreement and move forward. I hope for a long period when there will be no disruption of the Assembly, Assembly will follow Assembly, and people in Northern Ireland with political aspirations, whether Unionist or nationalist, will stand for it, be elected to it and work within it. Having called this creature into being, I ask the Secretary of State to trust it and not to do things in this House that take away from it some of the difficult and crucial decisions with which it, and it alone, should grapple.
The Assembly must have red meatreal issues to deal withand be able to show the people of Northern Ireland that they can trust it. We are all disturbed about
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the percentage of people who vote in elections. If they are to vote for the Assembly in large numbers, it must have real power to deal with big issues such as the structure of local government in Northern Ireland. That was mentioned by many Members yesterday and again today by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who made some extremely good points. The current structure of local government in Northern Ireland is not welcomed by anybody. Twenty-six local authorities are far too many at a time when there is a proliferation of other bodies. However, in lighting upon the figure of seven, which is supported only by the party that is not represented here, the Government are creating unpopularity and difficulty for themselves.
I beg the Secretary of State to go gently on this until November, so that the Assembly can determine whether the number should be seven, nine or whatever. We are fully agreed that it should be substantially fewer than 26, but let it be a figure that commands support across the board in Northern Ireland, so that the right hon. Member for North Antrim and the hon. Members for Foyle and for North Down and others can all say, "Yes, we recognise this, we want to work with it, and we want it to be the framework for our local government for coming generations."