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Lembit Öpik: As the hon. Gentleman said, the Secretary of State's original argument was that there was no cross-party support for giving the Assembly these additional powers. Given that it is perfectly obvious that every party represented here—apart from Government Front Benchers—agrees with such a proposal, the Secretary of State's argument falls. Is the hon. Gentleman, like me, a bit suspicious of the fact that the Secretary of State then moved on to a different set of justifications for not providing such powers? The best thing that the Secretary of State could do is to recognise the consensus that exists here and give the Assembly something serious to do.

Mark Durkan: I agree fully with the hon. Gentleman. The implication of the Secretary of State's earlier remark was that Sinn Fein might not agree with such a proposal. I can certainly see that Sinn Fein would not
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agree with giving the power of affirmative resolution; nor would we, and we would not expect the Government to agree to doing so. Such a power would give the various parties and communities a veto in their pocket on all manner of issues.

Whenever Orders in Council are dealt with in this very unsatisfactory way, we are told that the problem is that different parties support different proposals. However, all that we are trying to do is to give formal expression and record to the weight of party opinion and consideration. This is a relatively modest proposal and if the Secretary of State cannot accept it, I will be disappointed.

Mr. Hain: I am provoked into intervening briefly because the hon. Gentleman's party—together with Sinn Fein—did not want the shadow Assembly for which he is now arguing. We could have been in a different position if he had taken a different view.

Mark Durkan: Perhaps the Secretary of State could explain to us at some point the difference between a shadow Assembly and what we have, because it seems to be a shady, shadowy sort of affair anyway. Given that most of the legislation is recycled from the original Northern Ireland Act 1998, which did give us a shadow Assembly, it is hard to see the difference. Our concern was having an Assembly that had powers that people would become comfortable with, such as powers of affirmative resolution and a greater degree of legislative initiative than at present.

We propose these modest powers to test what the Secretary of State is saying and to add to people's justification for participating in this particular Assembly. We want to be able to say that it is not just a talking shop. We certainly want to be able to say that it will not be a talked-at shop or a talked-down-to shop, with business people and others coming in and talking to us as though we had no experience of devolution. We need some ongoing justification of purpose and, in particular, people in the community who want to see their elected representatives doing things for them in their mandated institutions. There would be some point in looking to the Assembly if it at least had the power of political estoppel or temporary injunction on Orders in Council for its lifetime. At least then people from business could come not to give us bland talks, but to advise us on decisions that we could take to affect the fate of an Order in Council. I do not see how the Secretary of State can argue against putting business, trade unions and community interests in such positive and purposeful engagement with the Assembly, as opposed to the talking-shop style exchange that he seems to envisage.

For that reason, we will not seek to divide the House on amendment No. 7, but we wish to vote on amendment No. 6. I understand that that cannot happen now, but only if we reach schedule 1 by 6 pm. On that basis, I ask the Secretary of State to think again and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 2

Selection of persons to be Ministers on restoration of devolved government

Mr. Dodds: I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'before 25th November 2006'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1 in page 2, line 10, at end insert—

'(4A) Condition 4 is that parliament has legislated to give effect to any changes necessary to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in order to allow conditions 1 to 3 to have effect.'.

No. 14, in page 2, line 10, at end insert—

No. 11, in schedule 3, page 9, line 4, leave out paragraph 4.

Mr. Dodds: We had a wide debate on the previous group of amendments and we now come to a group of amendments tabled mostly by my party. The purpose of the amendments is to allow the selection of a First Minister, Deputy First Minister and other Ministers, under the arrangements set out in schedule 2, if necessary after the deadline of 24 November 2006. As the legislation is currently drafted, the procedure can no longer be used after the deadline. That is because of the provisions of clause 2(1)(b) and schedule 3(4). Under the Bill as it stands, the only way to elect a First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and to select other Ministers, will be under the arrangements in the 1998 Act, or as it may be amended in the autumn.

Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 do not take away the capacity of the Secretary of State to take any action on 24 November, but merely leave options open that may be more appropriate if progress cannot be made by that date but could be made by May 2007. The amendments simply give the Secretary of State options, rather than closing them down or forcing him to come to the House at another stage with new legislation. We have had enough experience recently of new legislation dealing with Northern Ireland and Members would not be terribly pleased if we had to go through the whole process again.

If it is not possible to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly before 24 November but proves possible thereafter—a circumstance that is catered for in the measure—the many logistical arrangements may mean that it will be easier to make progress on the basis of the Secretary of State's standing orders than on the basis of the Northern Ireland Act. In that event, no Speaker would be elected—the role would have to be re-signed and those in power in 2003 would return to office on restoration. If the Assembly was restored and a First Minister and Deputy First Minister could not be elected, the countdown to an election would begin, despite the Secretary of State's saying that there would be no new elections to the institutions.

Lady Hermon: As there are parties who want to construe the DUP as having ulterior motives, it would
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be helpful if the hon. Gentleman took this opportunity to put on the record that changing the date is not because the DUP wants to maintain a talking shop on the hill at Stormont.

Mr. Dodds: I am happy to say once again, as most of my hon. Friends said yesterday on Second Reading, that of course we are not in the business of trying to create or maintain a talking shop. Indeed, if amendment No. 6 is pushed to a Division, we shall go into the Lobby to support it. We have always wanted the Assembly that is to be created to have the maximum authority and power and there have been some useful suggestions for making direct rule more accountable in the interim period. That would be sensible and I think that view is shared by parties in Northern Ireland.

We want to take account of the reality spelled out yesterday. When we reach the last week of November, the IRA and Sinn Fein may not have done everything necessary to make them acceptable as members of a Northern Ireland Executive. Let us be frank. Given the findings of the Independent Monitoring Commission report and the current circumstances, it will require a major step change in the provisionals' current attitude to criminality and other things that disqualify them from office to enable them to meet that deadline—although who knows what might happen? My party leader has already told us that he believes in miracles. Given his theological position, no one should be surprised at that statement. I believe in miracles, too—I share many of my right hon. Friend's theological positions as well as his political one.

The provisional movement has let us down many times in the past, however, and it has a fair way to go to convince people that it now has a purely democratic and peaceful methodology. It also has a considerable way to go on policing, as we all know. In the Secretary of State's comments in this place and outside over the past few days, he has referred to policing only in the context of the devolution of policing and justice powers. However, as I said in my contribution to the British-Irish interparliamentary body in Killarney, it is essential to recognise that for members of any party to exercise power as Ministers in any part of the United Kingdom it is extremely important not only that they support the police but that they urge their supporters and the community at large to give information to the police. They should not be half-hearted or equivocal about that matter. That extremely important issue cannot be ducked, set aside or ignored. So those in the provisional movement must deal with lots of issues. They are the ones who are holding up progress and who apparently stand in the way of the restoration of the Executive—not the DUP or the Unionist population.

4.30 pm

Amendment No. 14 would add a requirement to clause 2 that must be met before the Assembly can be restored. A number of conditions are set down in the Bill that must be met before a restoration order can be made, but amendment No. 14 would have the effect of adding the condition that the IMC must have reported that

Of course, we all know, given the political reality of the situation, what the circumstances must be, but as well as understanding that, it is important that the Bill refers to
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the outstanding issue of the day, which must be dealt with before the Executive can be restored. It is not just simply a matter of the parties getting together to elect a First Minister and appointing other Ministers; it is the central issue: whether or not Sinn Fein and the IRA have committed themselves to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. I believe that the Bill should refer to that condition, as well as it just being understood as a political necessity. That is the purpose of putting that condition in the Bill.

I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate on this group of amendments, he will seriously consider the matters that we have proposed—I emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friends—in the sense that we want to see this process work. We want to see it deliver. We want to see the restoration of devolution, but we want to see it restored in the right circumstances and in the right conditions.

We do not believe in the use of an arbitrary deadline set down by the Government that may not be met, not as a result of any unwillingness on the part of Unionists or any other democratic party to play their role in devolution, but because of the failure of the republican movement to measure up to what needs to be done. It would be entirely wrong then to see the whole edifice of devolution crash down and for the people of Northern Ireland to suffer in those circumstances. I believe that it is absolutely essential that we should try to maintain the momentum and to try to restore to Northern Ireland the maximum degree of devolution that can be possibly attained in those circumstances.

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