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We say again, however—as we have in our support for the Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 14 and 15—that the vote should involve either version of cross-community support, and not parallel consent alone. We also have difficulties with Government amendment No. 4, which limits to one the number of Departments that have joint, rotating or single cross-community elected Ministers. We do not want more joint Ministers in more Departments, but the Government have gone too far in removing the possibility that, if the Assembly decides on two separate Departments for justice and policing, there could be a single Minister in each Department, elected by cross-community support. Again, I must stress that we are not advocating two separate Departments, but that might be a choice that the Assembly wishes to make. If two Departments were created under d'Hondt, we do not see why the same should not be
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done if the Assembly decided to have single Ministers in separate Departments voted in by cross-community support.

The Minister has stressed that he wants the legislation to go forward. We have some difficulties with it, but we are not going to create more difficulty for him or for anyone else. We ask that he considers carefully the points that we have made. I have answered his unfair misrepresentation of our amendments as having the effect of removing completely powers from the First and Deputy First Minister in respect of justice Ministers. We are trying to get a balance of responsibility and rights between parties, and between the First and Deputy First Minister. I therefore commend our amendments, and the spirit of them, to the Minister for further consideration.

2.30 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson: I bet that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) spends his leisure moments watching “The X Files” or perhaps “Trainspotting”. He has taken us beyond what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) described in terms of a situation that is difficult to comprehend, with an enabling Bill and the particulars of unforeseen circumstances. Instead, the hon. Member for Foyle was able to offer us a series of possibilities. I intervened on him to point out that the d’Hondt mechanism would not be affected in all circumstances, but given that he was able to go on at such length on matters that will not necessarily occur, I was afraid to intervene further to tell him what those circumstances might be, as he could have gone on for at least another half-hour.

The reality is that there are circumstances in which policing and justice can be devolved without d’Hondt being affected. If the trainspotter who prepared the script for the hon. Gentleman has not noticed that, however, I will not draw it to his attention until much later, even if he asks me. I will put it alongside the more than 100 understandings that we had. Perhaps he can get one of his colleagues to make a written request for it under freedom of information.

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are circumstances under which d’Hondt is clearly affected? Has he read the schedules?

Mr. Robinson: I do not need to read the schedules. It is clear from the Bill that there are circumstances in which d’Hondt would be affected. If the hon. Gentleman really believes, however, that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will put the most important and powerful role in the land in the possession of a member of another political party, I am afraid that he has not been involved in the same kind of politics as me. No First Minister and Deputy First Minister are likely to hand over the role of policing and justice Minister to someone in an opposition party. That is just not real politics.

I welcome some of the amendments put tabled by the Government, especially new clause 3 and amendment No. 3, which are useful.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): On a point of clarification, the hon. Gentleman said that we
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were in fantasy land if we believed that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister would give a serious portfolio to the opposition. First, can he define whom the opposition are? Secondly, in parallel, would either a member of the First Minister’s party or the Deputy First Minister’s party—that is, a member of the DUP or Sinn Fein—be acceptable to him as a nominee for the justice Minister’s position?

Mr. Robinson: I assume that the opposition parties would be those other than the parties taking the decision. The coalition referred to is mandatory, not voluntary. In the previous Executive, every party was in opposition to every other party. In the Assembly, Ministers voted against legislation brought forward by other Ministers. We had a bizarre set of circumstances.

Dr. McCrea: Before my hon. Friend moves on, may I suggest to him that SDLP Members should be assured that the possibility of a Sinn Fein member being accepted in such a post is far-fetched?

Mr. Robinson: I certainly concur with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) will have heard me say, when the Bill was previously considered in the House, that I could not envisage that happening in my lifetime. I am always happy to be surprised about such matters, but the key issue is that the community must be satisfied. I do not believe that the community would be satisfied if people who are associated with those who are involved in terrorism, and who have a history of such involvement, were responsible for policing and justice.

The bizarre nature of the debate has become even more difficult because of the decision by the party of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) to enter into a formal relationship with a party that speaks for an illegal organisation. I am sure that she supports her leader in his decisions, but I know that the community that I represent cannot understand the Ulster Unionist party’s decision to have a formal relationship with the party that speaks for the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend accept that, to be fair to the hon. Lady, she is on record, two days before—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are now going rather wide of the debate on the amendment.

Mr. Robinson: It is actually a critical issue, because the way that policing and justice powers will be devolved to Northern Ireland will put such powers in the hands of the Assembly, where there is now a mountain to climb. The criterion that we have consistently adopted is that we could not be in government with those who are linked to parties involved in paramilitary and criminal activity. Out of the blue, the hon. Lady’s party has decided to put itself in that position, having condemned Sinn Fein— [Interruption.] I will give way to her if she wants to speak on the issue.

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Lady Hermon: That is enormously kind and generous of the hon. Gentleman. He and his colleagues will know that I do not, unlike them, hold a dual mandate. I am not a Member of the Assembly, but only of this House. I was not a party to the decision taken by my colleagues in the Assembly. That decision caused me deep distress. However, having said that, I believe, having had a long conversation last night with my party leader, Sir Reg Empey, that this might allow him an opportunity to exercise leverage on loyalist paramilitaries. It was perfectly obvious that the Northern Ireland Office has no strategy to bring about loyalist decommissioning. If Sir Reg is able to establish now a policy to bring about loyalist decommissioning and prevent any more murders, such as that of Lisa Dorrian in my constituency, that would be worth while. Apart from that, I am deeply distressed by the decision of my party colleagues.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Can we now speak more in generalities than specifics? I accept what the hon. Lady has said, but perhaps we can now continue with the debate.

Mr. Robinson: I thank the hon. Lady for making her personal position clear, and I know that when she has the opportunity to speak to her party leader she will remind him that that was not the reason that he has given publicly for his decision. It was a self-serving reason—or at least he thought that it was—as he thought that his party would get an additional ministerial post. However, he will find that that might not work out as he expected.

To return to new clause 3, policing and justice issues are of such importance that if they are to be devolved to a Northern Ireland Assembly, it is imperative that there is not just general support in the Assembly but, as under the previous legislation, cross-community support.

According to the definition of cross-community support in the earlier legislation, 40 per cent. of votes from one section of the community would have been sufficient. Policing and justice powers could have been devolved even if the majority of the Unionist community, for instance, did not support it. The Government new clause and amendments remedy that in two ways.

The first relates to the parallel methods of securing cross-community support in the Assembly. That support can be secured through an overall majority of Assembly Members, no fewer than 50 per cent. being from the Unionist community and no fewer than 50 per cent. being from the nationalist community. Alternatively, it can be secured through an overall majority, at least 40 per cent. being from either the Unionist or the nationalist community. In new clause 3, the Government specify the former method. There must be an overall majority, and a majority of both nationalists and Unionists. That should ensure real cross-community support: substantial support for the devolution of policing and justice powers in both communities, rather than a majority in one community and a minority in the other. The Government have made a sensible decision, establishing at least one lock for the Northern Ireland community.

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The second lock relates to the First and Deputy First Ministers. In practical terms, it would be absurd to provide for circumstances in which the Assembly might decide to devolve policing and justice powers without their consent. The Government have provided for practical circumstances, and for the further lock that my colleagues and I requested. In the comprehensive agreement proposals published by the Government, it was accepted not just by Her Majesty’s Government but by the Government of the Irish Republic, and I assume that Sinn Fein approved of it as well—although I cannot say for certain, because we were not speaking to Sinn Fein.

When I mentioned the desirability of this further lock to the Minister on Second Reading and also, I believe, in Committee, he responded that no mischief had been intended by its omission. We attributed its absence to a drafting blip. I am glad that that has now been remedied, and that both those locks are in the Bill.

It is true that there are two further locks, but they are not locks on which the Northern Ireland community would rely on very strongly. The fact that the Secretary of State must give his approval will not engender a great deal of trust and enthusiasm in the Unionist community nor will the need for the approval of the House, which has passed much legislation that has not been supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland. Those two locks may be important to the Government and the House, but they are not as important to the people of Northern Ireland as the first two locks. The first two locks are to the advantage of Unionist and nationalist alike. No Assembly Member need fear that anything will be foisted on the Assembly before the community is ready, and before the Assembly is ready to take its responsibilities. It would be wrong to put such important powers in the hands of an Assembly that was not ready to accept them. I trust that no nationalist or Unionist will dispute what the Government have done, but essentially we are talking about two double locks rather than a quadruple lock.

My second point is that because policing is such an important issue, it may be said to have an important context even before the devolution of policing and justice powers. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) is quoted as having said at the weekend that it was imperative for those who are part of an Executive in Northern Ireland to give their support to policing in Northern Ireland. The point has also been laboured—if he will forgive me for saying so—by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). Whenever he has explained what is necessary, he has specified that essential requirement.

2.45 pm

It is hard for anyone who reads about democracy in the text books to believe that someone could be part of an Executive, part of the Government of a country, without supporting the law enforcement agency of that country. It is still harder to believe that a member of an Executive would not support, and in many cases would not even recognise, the courts. That is not a proposition that anyone could seriously contemplate. Anyone who wants to be part of Government in Northern Ireland
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must be determined to urge people to give evidence to the police if they witness events, to contact the police if they are in need, and to encourage the police to operate freely in their areas. That is essential.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim rightly said that merely joining a police force would not be seen as giving support to the police, and that simply signing up to the devolution powers would certainly not be seen as such. Tangible support will consist of Assembly Members’ urging those over whom they have influence to support the police, join the police, give evidence to the police and ask the police to go into their areas.

Sammy Wilson: That condition has pertained since 1998, but has not yet been met by members of Sinn Fein. It is entirely wrong for the Secretary of State to describe it as a new condition.

Mr. Robinson: I have not heard the Secretary of State say that, and if he believes it to be a new condition, I am surprised that he has not been better briefed. My colleagues and I have often mentioned the issue in the House, so there is nothing new about it.

We are now reaching a stage at which we want to make very clear the particulars of what giving support to the police, and to our judicial system, means in Northern Ireland. I trust that those with aspirations to be in Government recognise that it would be inconsistent with that position to be part of an organisation that does not recognise the courts, and will not recognise or support the police. Even worse, a policy document from Sinn Fein that we received fairly recently did not merely suggest that Sinn Fein did not support the police, but argued that its members should go out and protest against them actively. There is a long road to travel.

I think that that demonstrates how difficult it will be for people to come to terms with the devolution of policing and justice powers, and why it will be necessary for Sinn Fein in particular to convince the community in Northern Ireland that it supports law and order and wants the police to be able to operate freely in all parts of Northern Ireland.

Dr. McCrea: As my hon. Friend will know, reports from the Independent Monitoring Commission and from those on the ground acknowledge the existence of a continuing serious threat from the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA. Does he accept that anyone holding ministerial office in any Executive will have to support the police force in the execution of its duty, and support the forces of law and order in the defeat of terrorism? Terrorism has been the scourge of Northern Ireland for so many years that we cannot be ambivalent about the future.

Mr. Robinson: I do indeed accept that. Difficult decisions would have to be made if Sinn Fein did support the police. It would have to be asked whether the community were confident that policing and justice powers had been devolved, and whether Sinn Fein should have any role in that. I cannot envisage such circumstances, but my hon. Friend tempts me to consider what situation Sinn Fein might face. It might well face the situation faced by a Minister in the Republic—in
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the Home Office, or whatever it was called in those days—who, having been in the Provisional IRA, had to line up some of his former colleagues who had continued in the war after he had taken up his democratic position, and have them shot. There would be hard decisions for any member of Sinn Fein to take in those circumstances, but I must point out to my hon. Friend that I cannot envisage them arising immediately.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Is it not a fact that Mr. De Valera had to do the same with his own people? Did not the first Prime Minister of the Irish Republic make a statement in which he said that there cannot be two police forces or two armies? He said that one police force—the police force of the state—was to be recognised, and that all others were to be rejected, and that if they were not rejected by the people, they, as the Government, would reject them and remove them.

Mr. Robinson: My right hon. Friend is correct, and that is the position that the Government of the Irish Republic adopt to this day. Indeed, it is one reason that the Justice Minister of the Irish Republic, Michael McDowell, gave for not countenancing Sinn Fein’s participation in government. He said that, while they retain a link with the Provisional IRA, one could not have two armies in the Irish Republic. However, there is a certain hypocrisy on the part of the Irish Republic, in that they are expecting us to do something that they are not prepared to do.

The intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) reminds me of The Irish Times article by Dermot Ahern, which was immensely insulting to the community in Northern Ireland. In essence, he said that these principles can be applied to us, but that they certainly cannot be applied in the Irish Republic. The attitude was, “Anything is good enough for those people up there.” The general attitude adopted by the Irish Republic’s foreign affairs Minister seemed to be, “We cannot have Sinn Fein in government, but those people up there should have them because they do not have a normal society.” They could not allow Sinn Fein to have any responsibility for policing but, of course, we can. However, if we are coming out of conflict, the need for stable institutions is all the greater. It is all the more important for people to have confidence in our security forces, the police and the justice system.

So policing is a critical issue, which is why the Minister, in providing these enabling powers, should not get carried away with the prospect of their being taken up immediately. His offer might lie on the table for some time. That said, I do welcome the further option that he provides in amendment No. 3, which allows the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to create a policing and justice department—set up by their nominee—if the proposal is supported by a cross-community vote in the Assembly. That is another option; however, no one knows whether that or any of the other options will be taken up. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) could well be right: a new idea might arise in the weeks, months and years before this event comes about, and the Government may well have to come back with more legislation.

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