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17 May 2006 : Column 1037

I would be more content if the Government focused on what is possible, rather than on what is practically impossible at the moment. I welcome the prospect of the Northern Ireland Assembly being brought out of suspension, if events go as well as the Government and my colleagues and I hope. Although the Assembly created under the 2006 legislation is not running, it is certainly up. I trust that the position of the Social, Democratic and Labour party—which is willing to participate, to discuss these issues and to put them before the Government—will be taken on board, because it is largely the same as that adopted by me and my colleagues. We do not want to be part of a talking shop. That said, we do want to talk about these issues and to reach agreement on them, but we will point out to the Government that if an agreement is reached, they must ensure that the wishes of the elected representatives in Northern Ireland are implemented in respect not just of the issues before us, but of wider issues.

Mr. Dodds: I want to make one or two brief points. We have discussed a wide range of issues in some detail. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) painted various scenarios in convoluted detail, some of which were extremely hypothetical, and which may or may not come about. He painted an unhappy picture of extreme deviousness and lack of trust—not that that is uncommon, perhaps, in politics. If such safeguards as he described have to be implemented, that suggests that the devolution of policing and justice will never come about. He referred, in the context of appointing a Speaker, to Caesar doing in Brutus, although today we perhaps have Cleopatra in the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It appears that, in the process of deciding who should occupy the Chair, there would be a complete blood-bath.

That does not bear thinking about, but we should all be reassured by the fact that the scenario that we are contemplating today is extremely unlikely. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that it is not likely to happen in his lifetime, and I agree that it is extremely unlikely that the circumstances will be such that the people of Northern Ireland will be sufficiently confident to contemplate allowing a party such as Sinn Fein—or, indeed, the Progressive Unionist party—anywhere near justice and policing in Northern Ireland. We must bear that point in mind during this debate.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman says that it will be a long time before the community in Northern Ireland contemplates Sinn Fein’s being involved in policing and justice. Does he think that that is true even if a Sinn Fein representative were serving as Deputy First Minister?

Mr. Dodds: The hon. Gentleman raises a point that perhaps gets to the core of this issue. As has been pointed out, we have emphasised in recent days that support for law and order and the police must be demonstrated not just by joining the Policing Board. We must remember that Sinn Fein joined the Northern Ireland Executive while they were quite prepared to
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undermine democracy and government. Signing up to the Executive did not make them democrats, and signing up to the Policing Board does not make them supporters of the police. Before they can be considered fit for office—be it in policing and justice, or any in other position—they must support all aspects of policing and urge people to give information to the police. They must also do so in a credible way, instead of simply issuing a statement that enables them to clear a particular hurdle. I hope that that is clear.

I am somewhat concerned by the attitude that Ministers from the Prime Minister downward are adopting on this issue. They seem to be saying that this is a new precondition, but it is not. If someone is committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means and says that there has to be a complete end to criminality, ipso facto, they have to support police. If they are against criminality but do not support the police, in effect, they are saying, “We’ll organise the stamping out of criminality, through the structures and organisations that we have in place.” That is unacceptable in a democratic society, and it is certainly an unacceptable view for any party that aspires to be in government.

Mark Durkan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I hope that he can help us further. He pointed out that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said earlier that we might not see devolution of justice and policing in his lifetime, particularly if there is a Sinn Fein Minister. However, the hon. Gentleman did not say the same about the prospect of a Sinn Fein member becoming Deputy First Minister. He also said that he could not see a First Minister and Deputy First Minister appointing anybody other than people from their own parties. So will the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) please clarify the relationship between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and the devolution of policing and justice in that regard?

Mr. Dodds: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but my hon. Friend made it clear that when he was talking about who would be First Minister and Deputy First Minister, he was doing so in the context of the legislation before us and the various scenarios that might arise. He also made it clear, as has our party, that the prospects of reaching that situation, in which we would consider proposals for the Northern Ireland Assembly on the issue of devolution of policing and justice, are remote. In fact, they are so remote that it is difficult to envisage when it might happen.

As for the holding of ministerial office, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister has said that parties that want to take part in the government of Northern Ireland should support the policing, but that those are matters for the medium term and which must be worked on or must happen—as if we can somehow expect that to happen in due course, in parallel with the Executive being up and running. That will not wash.

3 pm

My hon. Friend mentioned the remarks by Dermot Ahern, the Irish Foreign Minister. It is completely unacceptable for him to tell people in Northern Ireland that he would not share power with Sinn Fein in the
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Republic because it does not support the Garda Siochana, but that it is acceptable for it to be in government in Northern Ireland because we have been in a conflict situation. Our people, our constituents, our kith and kin have been murdered and butchered by the people who Dermot Ahern says are acceptable as Government Ministers, and they still do not support the police. What sort of message does that send to the people of Northern Ireland?

Dermot Ahern said in effect that it was acceptable for Sinn Fein not to support the police because all the recommendations of the Patten report have not been implemented. He was pressed on which recommendations he meant, and he said that Sinn Fein had not signed up. I am sure that the SDLP was not very grateful for those comments. It was diplomatic in its response, in public, but I am sure that it has let the Irish Government know how it feels.

In those remarks, Dermot Ahern effectively told Sinn Fein, “It’s okay, you don’t have to sign up to policing and justice, or give your support to the police. We accept your position of being in government but not supporting the police.” That is a very dangerous situation, and the Government should be aware that this is a matter of fundamental importance to all the people of Northern Ireland. That is why the decision, in that context, of the Ulster Unionist party to embrace the PUP as a formal part of its party structure in the Assembly has such incredible implications for the political process in Northern Ireland. I welcome what the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has put on record today, but the reason that her party leader gave her in private conversation is not the reason he gave publicly at the time, or in the Assembly. He said that he had done it purely as a power grab, to grab an extra ministry. In fact, if he had waited, he would not have needed to do that at all. He has got all the pain, with no gain whatever.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Does my hon. Friend agree that we are getting into dangerous territory? The Government are bypassing the conditions that were laid down by the Prime Minister in this very House. A statement has been issued by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the UUP’s decision to subsume Mr. Ervine was “a surprise”, but a matter for the parties. I do not know what he means by that. What parties? Healso said that Sinn Fein was in a “much stronger position” to be on the Executive since the IRA had decommissioned. He said:

That is giving a green light to two parties to keep on their way. They cannot do what the Prime Minister said that they would do and still be in government and appoint people to office.

Mr. Dodds: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to those significant remarks by the Secretary of State today. Is it not amazing that the Secretary of State can reveal that, in his estimation, Sinn Fein is more qualified for government—or is nearer to being qualified—than the UUP, with its formal links to the PUP? Who would
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have thought that that would happen? Reg Empey and the UUP will have to grapple with that issue. They have added considerable volatility to the situation, as we approach whatever deadline may be arriving.

There will be no double standards from this party. We have made our position clear on the entry into government of parties associated with terrorism and violence. I would have hoped that having made an issue of IRA decommissioning, Reg Empey would have taken that same position consistently, but sadly those hopes have been dashed.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Is my hon. Friend aware that one of his constituents,Mr. Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF, met the leader of the UUP on Monday morning? Before that meeting, another UUP Assembly Member, Mr. Copeland from East Belfast, made an offer to Mr. McCord of the use of an office if he would keep quiet and not criticise the decision. The UUP is now into bribing victims. Is my hon. Friend also aware that Mr. McCord was informed by Sir Reg Empey that David Ervine was the third MLA that he had approached about signing up to their group, the other two having rejected—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should relate their remarks to the new clause.

Mr. Dodds: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In considering the clauses, which relate to the conditions under which policing and justice powers may be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly at some point in the future, it is important and relevant to consider the parties involved and the conditions that they have to meet. In that context, the Secretary of State’s comments today, referred to by my right hon. Friend, are significant. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) is also significant. I know Raymond McCord, he is one of my constituents and I have spoken to him on many occasions. I am aware of the hurt and the pain that he and his family have gone through as the result of the death of his son at the hands of the UVF, and many other people have been in touch with our party to express their utter revulsion at the latest development with the UUP. The suggestion that the UUP, through Mr. Copeland, would attempt to bribe Mr. McCord into silence adds another dimension of revulsion, and it poses serious questions about the judgment of that party.

Dr. Alasdair McDonnell: I hesitate to waste time, but I wish to set the record straight. Mr. Raymond McCord is one of my constituents: he lives on Purdysburn hill, near Newtownbreda. The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) has misled the Chamber.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should think carefully about the words that he has just used. He may wish to reframe his remarks.

Dr. McDonnell: I withdraw what I said.

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Madam Deputy Speaker: I hope that hon. Members will be a little more precise in their remarks about the new clause.

Mr. Dodds: For the vast bulk of the time,Mr. McCord has been a constituent in Belfast, North. Certainly, his son was murdered while he was living there.

In conclusion, these new clauses touch on wider political issues. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Foyle, we could spend a long time on minutiae and mechanics and lose the context of what we are discussing. The latter part of the debate has focused on the real political issues at stake. There has been much talk about locks, triple locks, and quadruple locks. Some people will be on the side of the locksmiths and will try to build in safeguards, while others will be on the side of those who want to pick the lock and sneak into Government by the back door.

We are on the side of the locksmiths and are building in safeguards. I am glad that the new clause means that we will have, not the triple lock that my party called for originally, but a quadruple lock. That quadruple lock requires the approval of the Secretary of State and this House, and the 50:50:50 approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I welcome that, for precisely the reason that the leader of the SDLP does not—it changes the Belfast agreement. Moreover, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have to agree before any proposal can be brought forward.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I had not intended to take part in the debate, but I have listened with considerable interest to speeches that have been rather longer than were originally promised. I completely understand that and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have been very generous in allowing a wide-ranging debate on the new clause. I hope that it does not sound patronising if I say that I think that you have been right to do so. Events have taken place in the Province this week that cast a shadow, and hon. Members were bound to refer to them. I thank you very much for allowing them to do so.

I support the new clause because, in essence, it is impeccable. The Government are saying that in no circumstances should matters of policing and justice be devolved unless there is a credible and virtually unanimous wish across the Province, encapsulated by the agreement of the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the nationalist and Unionist communities, that that should happen. All of that is right, and I applaud the Minister for bringing the new clause forward.

I listened with mounting perplexity to the long speech from the leader of the SDLP, which certainly deserves to earn him a doctorate in Machiavellian studies. He set out so many conditions and preconditions, and anticipated so many difficulties, that the Minister was right to resist his blandishments.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) referred earlier to last week’s appearance by Secretary of State before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. It is always an interesting session when he comes before the Committee, and last week was no exception. He always treats the Committee with total courtesy, and is an extremely effective witness, but he did rather equivocate last week.

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One after another, hon. Members asked whether the acceptance of the rule of law and support for the police should not be preconditions of participation in government. The transcript shows that the Secretary of State did not give an unequivocal and binding answer, yet the new clause contains just such a commitment— [ Interruption.] It would be nice to have the attention of all those from the Province.

The new clause says that matters of policing and justice cannot be devolved without the agreement about which there has been much discussion and which the DUP support very strongly. On the other hand, it makes it clear that people will be allowed into government and positions of executive responsibility who do not accept the rule of law or support the policing of the Province.

That is a remarkable and frankly indefensible paradox, and I beg the Minister to talk to the Secretary of State about it. There will be an opportunity to debate the matter in greater detail later this afternoon, although I shall not necessarily take part. That is why I making some relevant remarks now.

3.15 pm

We cannot cherry-pick in the way that is proposed if we are to have a proper and credible Assembly in Northern Ireland, with an Executive who can command widespread and lasting support. To establish proper normality in the Province, we must remember what government means, and insist absolutely that it is upheld by those who participate in it. People cannot uphold government if they do not uphold the rule of law, and they cannot do that unless they uphold those who are given responsibility for keeping the peace.

I hope that the debate will lead to a bit of a rethink, and that the Secretary of State will give us an absolute assurance that cherry-picking will end. I hope that a welcome will be extended to people who change their views and foreswear criminality. It is impossible to forget, but there must be a willingness to draw a line in respect of the past. The absolute requirement, however, is that the people with executive responsibility in government sign up to the rule of law, absolutely and completely. That must be accepted totally if matters to do with justice and policing are ever to be devolved.

Until such matters are devolved, we will not have a proper devolved Government in the Province. That is why it is essential that we move towards the acceptance that I have described. The Government are right to insist on the preconditions in new clause 3, and I applaud them for bringing that provision forward, but I also implore them to accept the logic of the argument implicit in it. There can be no fudge over the next six months that causes us to land up with an Assembly that has built-in obsolescence from the day of its first meeting.

I am one of those who are concerned about the future of the Province of Northern Ireland. We want it to be treated with the same degree of respect as Wales, Scotland and England, and to enjoy the same degree of normality that obtains in those countries. That is why we must insist that there can be no fudge in this matter. That is crucially important.

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I support what the Minister is asking the House to agree to this afternoon, and I do so without any equivocation whatsoever. However, the Government must be equally unequivocal in the demands that they make on those who would aspire to Government in the Province.

Dr. McCrea: The heading for the new clause is “Conditions for devolving policing and justice matters”. My colleagues who have spoken in the debate have made it abundantly clear that, for us, there can be no new conditions. The conditions for the devolution of policing and justice matters are also the conditions for a devolved Government, which are, as we have said so many times before, that there must be not only a complete and absolute end to terrorism with a renunciation of terrorism and all acts of terrorism, but a complete and final turning away from criminal activities and a renunciation of them. That includes those who still live on the rewards of crime. We do not close our hearts and minds to a fact that many people have forgotten: £20 million is still in the hands of the Provisionals. We cannot allow people to continue to live on the fruit of their past criminal activity.

We are making no new conditions for the devolution of policing and justice matters; the conditions for any democratic society are that everyone must uphold the rule of law and support those who exercise it in the Province on behalf of Her Majesty and Her Majesty’s Government. There can be no fuel laundering, no money laundering, no extortion, no intimidation and no continuation of the wide range of criminal activity that the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein-IRA have so successfully carried out for so many years. We demand an absolute end to such activity. I want to make it clear that this is not a new condition laid down by the Democratic Unionist party; it is a statement of our position right from the beginning. We shall not change our principles for the Government or anyone else; we shall not sacrifice the principles of a democratic society.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I say with pride that I am delighted that my hon. Friend has allowed me to intervene. For many years, I have taken an active and positive interest in Northern Ireland. Does he accept that the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee, were absolutely right? There can be no devolved Government unless all parties in Northern Ireland accept the rule of law and recognise the police and justice in the Province. Without that, there can be no meaningful devolved Government in Northern Ireland who will encourage the involvement of all its peoples.

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