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Mr. Hanson: My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were present in Armagh on 6 April, as were the Taoiseach and I, when these proposalsfor this Bill and to restore the Assemblywere brought forward. The Government of the Irish Republic and the British Government are unanimous about the need to include a deadline in this Bill.
From my perspective, I do not think it appropriate for the people of Northern Ireland to expect that the process will remain open-ended for ever. We have to set a deadline, for a variety of reasons. First, it puts on the parties involved the pressure that must be applied if we are to resolve the question of the Assembly. Secondly, the Assembly elections in May next year are rushing towards us. These things tend to go quickly, and even the hon. Members for Belfast, North, for Lagan Valley and for Tewkesbury must recognise that it is impractical and impossible to ask the people of Northern Ireland to vote again for an Assembly that does not sit, and for Members who do not participate in their legislative functions, even though they maintain their strong constituency roles.
For those reasons, we need to set a deadline, and we have picked 25 November. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury said that he will support the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Belfast, North, but that would remove the deadline from the Bill completely. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) have explained, the absence of a deadline would leave us with an open-ended commitment, with the result that there would be no pressure on the parties to resolve the key issues.
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Mr. Gregory Campbell : Does the Minister agree that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) still pertains? If the Government want to exert pressure, they retain the powernotwithstanding the amendmentto cease at a stroke all allowances and salaries paid to all Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Minister wants pressure, that pressure can be applied at any time between now and 24 November, and beyond.
Mr. Hanson: The Government will look at exercising that pressure and that power. However, I cannot accept the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Belfast, North because we believe that we must implement a deadline for the resolution of the Executive election for the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The deadline has been implemented so that we can secure that election in a reasonable time before 25 November and do what everyone who has spoken on both days of this debate wants to do, which is to take power from the British Government and give it back to the hon. Member for Belfast, North and his colleagues in Northern Ireland. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South that no deadline would mean an open-ended commitment. The deadline is not a threat, and it reflects the political reality of the situation.
I recognise that DUP Members and the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) need to have trust in the republican movement that paramilitary activity and criminality have ceased, which is key to their entering the Assembly. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), who clearly expressed that point on Second Reading. I understand that an end to paramilitary activity, criminality and the possession of arms by the IRA is central to entry into the Assembly for the DUP.
"We are not aware of current terrorist, paramilitary or violent activity sanctioned by the leadership. We have had no indications in the last three months of training, engineering activity, recent recruitment or targeting for the purposes of attack."
I recognise that until those matters are fully resolved, DUP Members will have difficulty in entering the Assembly, and I also recognise that the key to their entering the Assembly is the IMC report that will be introduced in October and November this year. However, I cannot support putting that point as a precondition in Bill in the manner suggested by the hon. Member for Belfast, North.
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Mr. Laurence Robertson: It would do Conservative Members no good to deny the significant progress in the IMC report, but it does the Government no good to quote selectively, which the Minister has done again. I shall give him the sentence immediately before his final quote:
That is the second of two quotes in paragraph 2.15 about continued expulsions by the IRA. As the Minister knows, other parts of the IMC report mention senior members of the IRA who are involved in criminality. It does not do either side any good to quote selectively.
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman and I have had a good relationship in the time that we have shadowed each other, and he knows that I do not share his view that I am trying to quote selectively. I recognise that there is still work to be done by the Provisional IRA, but I say to him genuinely and honestly that I believe in the IMC report, and my understanding is that the Provisional IRA leadership are now committed to a political, peaceful role for their ends.
The task for the next few months is to secure that response by all members of the organisation in all parts of Northern Ireland. The IMC report in October or November this year will be critical to the judgments made by hon. Members. I hope that they can have sufficient confidence to go into the Assembly during May on that basis, but I recognise that they probably will not for the reason that the right hon. Member for North Antrim gave yesterdaynamely, that the conditions are not right. However, I do not believe that including such provisions in the Bill will assist in making those conditions right. The IMC report is vital in this respect.
Sammy Wilson: Does the Minister accept that it is not sufficient merely for the IMC to say that criminality and so on has ceased, but that there is also a need for those who wish to be involved in the Assembly to give full and unequivocal support to the police? It is a case not only of stopping carrying out criminal activities, but of supporting those who are trying to deal with criminality.
Absolutely; I agree 110 per cent. with the hon. Gentleman. I look forward to the day when Sinn Fein Membersand SDLP Memberstake their places on the Policing Board. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that adherence to the rule of law is fundamental to the operation of a democratic society and that support for the police in operating in that legislative framework is important. When we debated the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we discussed the way in which we can, I hope, devolve policing and criminal justice in due course. I understand where hon. Members want to get to, how they want to get there, and the barriers that prevent them from participating in the Assembly, but putting in a legislative framework will not meet that objective. They need certain conditions to be met in order for their confidence to be restored and for their trust in the process to go forward. That is self-evident from their speeches yesterday and today.
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I do not believe that amendment No. 1, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, would add anything to the Bill. I hope that I say that in a helpful mode. Leaving aside the slight oddity of one Bill binding this House to the passing of a further Bill, I cannot see how the amendment would have any practical effect, because the Bill already sets three conditions that must be met before devolution can be restored.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned redesignation and the election of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We have acknowledged that several parties have major concerns about institutional matters that they want to be addressed before the restoration of the Assembly. I am happy to have discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland, including the hon. Gentleman's sister party, the Alliance party. We will talk to David Ford and other colleagues to see whether we can get accommodation and agreement between his sister party and the other parties that are represented in the Assembly. That is essential. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already dealt with this point. By definition, the conditions will not be met until legislation is in place.
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