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Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend's point is given added weight when one considers that not only was the Presiding Officer appointed by the Secretary of State alone, but no one in any of the political parties was even consulted on the appointment. That is a cause of great concern.

Mr. Robinson: My hon. Friend is right. He will remember that, when we met with the Secretary of State before the appointment was made, we asked whether he
 
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would consult the political parties before he decided. He made it clear that there would not be any consultation and that was borne out by the fact that the person who appears to have been most surprised by the appointment of Eileen Bell as the Presiding Officer was the leader of her party. It was not the first time that he had been surprised to discover that an appointment had been made. None of that should detract from the credibility of the individual involved. I wish Eileen Bell well, and my colleagues and I have no intention of making life difficult for her—I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has already personally wished her well. I trust that she will have deputies who will give her the necessary support. The position would, however, have greater authority if it were elected by the Assembly.

I would like the Secretary of State to make it clear that although the legislation says that he may authorise the Assembly to elect a Presiding Officer, he will do so and allow the position greater authority. Otherwise we will be in the ludicrous position of the Assembly Members barely being able to breathe without the permission of the Secretary of State, which would make it something less than a talking shop. He must let go of the leash and allow the Assembly to take on more and more responsibility. That is the least that he can do.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): This has been an interesting debate and I have listened intently to those hon. Members who have spoken. Many questions have been posed and we await the answers from the Secretary of State, although some limited light has been shed on the subject by his interventions this afternoon. That is deeply appreciated.

The Government must reveal their true intention. In reality, no one is under any illusion about that true intention. We all know that it is the Government's design and intention to get the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Fein-IRA into government, but only the last of those parties has a dual title, so we have to ensure that the democratic credentials of all those participating in government are clear.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has made it abundantly clear that neither the Government nor anyone else will be able to cajole, pressurise or even humour our party into anything that is not in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland and that is not built on the solid foundation of true democracy. There is a great challenge to those who were inextricably linked to terrorism in the past. They must completely renounce violence; for them, the path of terror must be consigned to the history books. There must be recognition of the primacy and authority of the security forces. They must support the efforts of the police to ensure law and order and the safety of everyone in the community—everyone equal under the law and equally subject to the law.

Her Majesty's security forces must and will be supported in exercising their legitimate authority to move against and defeat terrorism. We must make that abundantly clear. People who want us to believe that they have moved away from their terrorist path must support the security forces, the police and the Army, in their efforts to defeat and bring to book those who are
 
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still active in terrorism, who may be in the Real IRA—although we are told it has moved away from terrorism—or the Continuity IRA. There is no hiding place. If people want to be part of the Government, they have to say that they will support the security forces in their efforts to track down and defeat Continuity IRA. They have to come up to the mark. Members should make no mistake: we will not be cajoled, pressurised or humoured into accepting a second-rate Administration.

The people of Northern Ireland have the right to a true democratic solution, based on firm democratic principles, and that is what we want for them. We must be assured that all the criminality and corruption of the past has been rejected, and that there is repentance and genuine remorse for the slaughter of the innocent, so that we can move forward on democratic grounds. That is what is expected in a democracy. Nothing less would be accepted for membership of Government in this place, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, so nothing less than those credentials will be acceptable to us.

As I said yesterday, we are a devolutionist party. We want a return to strong devolution in Northern Ireland with a devolved Government who can deal with the issues that affect the lives of the people of Northern Ireland.

I have listened carefully to SDLP Members and looked carefully at their amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) rightly acknowledged our general support for amendment No. 6, but in respect of amendments Nos. 7 and 8, I have to say, with the greatest respect to the leader of the SDLP, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), that he must leave the dark ages and move on from the Belfast agreement. We are in a new century from the agreement. He must leave the old century, enter the new one and come into the real world. It is amazing that despite his knowledge of the failures of the Belfast agreement, he does not want a jot or tittle removed from it; we must abide by it, warts and all. That is a totally untenable position. No one with any common sense could accept it.

Let me give an example of what the hon. Member for Foyle is asking us to ensure that we continue with and that the Secretary of State would activate under the Belfast agreement. Ministers can act like little dictators, irrespective of the will of the Assembly. That is totally unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that if we did not come up to the mark by 25 November, if we had not settled and if we had had no impact on the issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland, those parties would stand condemned by the electorate.

Let me just remind the hon. Gentleman that, for the majority of people in Northern Ireland—not the majority of the Unionist community, but the majority of Unionist and nationalist people—the majority argument on education started in the Assembly. Ministers are activating that which was decided by an unaccountable Minister in the Assembly who acted like a dictator, rather than like someone in a democracy. That is not acceptable.

The will of the Assembly must be paramount; it must be that which is accepted. Members are telling the Secretary of State that taking account must mean more than taking account and that he must act accordingly. If
 
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we are to re-establish everything in the Belfast agreement, will the hon. Member for Foyle set his mind back to what happened? Ministers did not act according to the will of the Assembly. They heard what the Assembly said, for example, on education, but they did what they wanted to do.

Let us talk about health and the closure of hospitals. It is very good for Sinn Fein-IRA Members to come out on the streets and say, "We must keep Omagh hospital" and "We must keep the Mid-Ulster hospital", but who took the decision to close those hospitals? Where did that start? The decision came from the Assembly. With the greatest respect, Ministers—I have many arguments with them—are simply carrying forward decisions that Barbara Brown took and they are putting them into action. How did she decide that? Did she decide it by the will of the Assembly? No. She acted contrary to the will of the Assembly. Why did she do that? She did it according to her political affiliation and therefore she felt at the time that she wanted to do it because she wanted to ensure that the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat would be secured in the Westminster elections. She and her party played with the lives of the people. They played with the health of the people. They knew that West Tyrone was safe for Sinn Fein and therefore they wanted to secure Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Therefore, they established the hospital in Fermanagh and they closed Omagh hospital.

Rev. Ian Paisley: May I remind the House of what happened with the Jubilee hospital and with the chairman of the maternity hospital, too? The chairman of the committee was an SDLP man and he said, "No!", but the Sinn Fein member of the Executive took the decision and laughed at the SDLP and everyone else.

Dr. McCrea: My right hon. Friend is exactly right. In fact, in the example of the Jubilee hospital, which is in south Belfast, it was politically expedient for the then Minister, Barbara Brown—Sinn Fein-IRA—to make a proposal for west Belfast, for Gerry's seat. Therefore, they did not care about the health of the people or about the will of the people. In fact, on that occasion, a previous Member for Belfast, West—Dr. Joe Hendron—was the chairman of the health committee. He and other Members of the SDLP disagreed with that decision simply on health grounds, and it was referred twice to the court. The Minister was ordered by the court to revisit her decision, but she still went on with it, irrespective of that. We have got to be very careful.

3.15 pm

The Belfast agreement, as it stands, was rejected by the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. We have got to accept that that is the will of the people and that should be taken into account. If the hon. Member for Foyle is asking the Secretary of State to take account of the will of the people in activating decisions, he ought to take account of it, as well.


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