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Dr. McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. For many years, both he and his good wife, the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), have indeed had the interests of Northern Ireland at heart. I wholeheartedly agree that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) exactly set out the principles of democracy, but I do not accept that terrorists should hold up devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The Social Democratic and Labour party should have
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the imagination and vision to join the rest of us in a devolved, cross-community Government who ostracise those who carry on criminal and terrorist activity.

We have constantly suggested to the SDLP that there could be a voluntary coalition among true democrats in Northern Ireland. That would give great heart to the people of Northern Ireland and would be a positive way forward. If the SDLP ties itself to the likes of Sinn Fein-IRA, it will be tying itself to a broken stick. Sinn Fein-IRA have proved that they are not democrats working in accordance with the principles of democracy—they are not, therefore, meeting the conditions.

The rest of us—the people of Northern Ireland—should not be tied by criminals and terrorists. True democrats should stand shoulder to shoulder, side by side, and give the people hope and a visionary way forward that will give us a good devolved Government who are not undermined by the constant threat of whether their members will be involved in terrorist atrocity or whether another stash of arms will be found. We need stable government, and the conditions for devolving policing and justice matters are the same as those that will establish truly acceptable, democratic devolved government in Northern Ireland.

We in the DUP want to see that day; we want it for the good of the people of Northern Ireland, but there is one price that we will not pay. We are not willing to undermine the principles of democracy. If we do that, the foundations will be rotten and, as I have said so many times, a house built on sand will surely fall when the day of testing comes. My Saviour set out that principle when he talked about the house built on sand. The house that will withstand every test is the house built on rock. Our foundation must be the rock of democracy and we will accept nothing less. We must have those conditions, which is why I am happy to support everything that my right hon. and hon. Friends have said in the debate. I trust that the Secretary of State will get the message. We are not moving one iota from the principles we have set out in the past.

Mr. Hanson: We have debated the new clause for about an hour and 45 minutes, but I think that there is an element of consensus among Members. The issues set out in the amendments have received a welcome from DUP Members—the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds). The Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) welcomed the principal Government amendments and there has been no opposition to them from my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). There is a general consensus that our amendments will help to secure support in due course for the devolution of policing and criminal justice in Northern Ireland.

Mark Durkan: Will the Minister take a correction? I do not want to cause problems or difficulties, but we certainly do not support the Government’s principal amendment.

Mr. Hanson: Perhaps I was too hopeful of the circumstances, but there has been an element of consensus in today’s debate. At times, given the number
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of times that locks have been mentioned, I feel that I am in the possession of more locks than Chubb at the moment, but we make progress.

The principle behind all this remains the same as the principle that I elucidated in my opening comments: can we get a position whereby the Assembly has the opportunity to consider whether it wishes policing and criminal justice to be devolved? I believe that the amendments provide an opportunity for rational consideration, which gives the opportunity for cross-community support and empowers to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to propose that support to ensure that the Assembly has its full consideration. Again, I am in danger of repeating myself, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, or his successor, must then agree to that proposal and would bring it to the House for its endorsement.

I fully accept that all the points mentioned by the hon. Members for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), for Belfast, East, for Belfast, North, for South Staffordshire and, indeed, others have pointed to the fact that there is still a range of difficulties that relate to the conditions being right for the process to commence, but I do not know whether or not that will happen in the lifetime of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. I wish I knew how long he will live; I am sure that he will have a long and happy life. However, the key conditions are there to allow that mechanism to begin when that confidence is in place.

3.30 pm

I recognise that there are many difficulties and I am in danger of straying into discussing later amendments on the rule of law, which I am happy to debate now, and there are real issues about the definitions. We have tabled further amendments for later in consideration, but I repeat what I have said in the House previously: the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I wish to see Sinn Fein sign up to policing and to support policing operations in Northern Ireland. That is a key element in building the confidence that hon. Members wish to see, and I certainly urge those hon. Members from Sinn Fein who are not in the House today to consider that proposal in considering these matters in the House and elsewhere. It is important that they support the police for reasons that are self-evident to every hon. Member who sits in the House today.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Rather than being a key element, should not the Minister use the words “absolute requirement”?

Mr. Hanson: We will debate those matters in due course. If the hon. Gentleman, who holds the distinguished position of Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, looks, as I know that he has done, at the pledge of office that is in place for Ministers, he will see that the very points that he makes are intrinsic in that. [Hon. Members: “They are not.”] Let me finish the point. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done, I have also said that, as part of the discussions on the way forward for the Assembly, the question of discussion on the pledge
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of office is open for consideration, and a strengthening of that pledge of office could be considered in due course by the Assembly and by the Government.

Mr. Dodds: Is that it?

Mr. Hanson: I simply say that I recognise the concerns that hon. Members have raised today. We will have an opportunity later to discuss those concerns in more detail, and I am in danger of drifting into issues that are important in relation to these clauses but are subject to further amendment later in the day.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I am very interested in what the Minister has said. I should like him to tell the House, and to read it out, where the police are mentioned in the undertaking that he says that the new Ministers all had to take.

Mr. Hanson: Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. The pledge of office that all Ministers must affirm in the Assembly before taking up posts already requires a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Amendments made in 2003 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 facilitate the consideration of the Independent Monitoring Commission’s recommendations and provides safeguards where Ministers and parties fail to observe the pledge of office. As I have said, the pledge of office, as currently constituted, provides for adherence to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. As we have already made clear, if the parties want to change the pledge of office and they can agree on a form of words in the context of an agreement on a package of other strand 1 issues, I am certainly willing to take those matters forward.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am trying to be helpful. What I should like is a pledge that says, “I unreservedly uphold the rule of law and give my total and absolute support to those who are commissioned to protect the public in the police.”

Mr. Hanson: Again, we are in danger of going into debates that we will have later—I am happy to do that—but as I said in Committee, the principle of supporting policing and the rule of law is something that I wish to uphold. I wish to see that happen, and I have no problem with that. However, as I have said during the course of the debate, it is possible for a Minister to have disagreements with the police and there is a whole range of circumstances in which a Minister could exercise judgment in those disagreements. I agree with the substance of what hon. Members are saying, but it is difficult to put things in the form that the later amendments do. We are in danger of having a debate about later amendments and I do not wish to incur your wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Sammy Wilson: Does the Minister accept that we are not talking about having disagreements with the police? We are talking about a party that discourages people from having any contact with the police or giving the police any evidence or support to tackle crime. That is totally different.

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Mr. Hanson: I want that full support for the police to be visualised in an operational way by support from all parties for policing. I want Sinn Fein to take places on the Policing Board, as does the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins). I want to see that support. However, there are specific reasons why the Government cannot accept the phraseology of later amendments.

I want to refocus the debate on the fact that there is an element of consensus among Members here today. I welcome the welcome of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle for the proposals that I have made in response to the concerns that he put to me in Committee. However—I mean this in the nicest possible way—there is a danger that the amendments that he has tabled will mean that we will not just micro-manage some of the circumstances, but micro-micro-manage them. I understand and have some sympathy with what he has said, in that everything that he has mentioned in support of his amendments is accurate and relates to things that could occur. However, I am trying to envisage circumstances in which they would. What I am saying is genuinely intended to help him. He talked about d’Hondt. It is true that a justice Minister counts as a d’Hondt post, but if a Minister resigns or is dismissed and a new Minister is appointed, d’Hondt would be run again. The Bill already provides for that. So, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister cannot gain extra seats by dismissing Ministers from other parties in the way that he has suggested.

Again, I understand the possibilities but, as even the hon. Members for Belfast, East and for Belfast, North recognised, we are discussing things that may or may not ever occur. I accept that they could occur and that everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle said is possible. I will certainly reflect on those things. If other parties feel that we need to micro-micro-manage those issues, I am happy to reflect on those points in another place. I am trying to put in place a broad framework that will mean that devolution can take place and we have the mechanisms in place to put in the locks to which we have all referred. Although we can certainly adopt the principles of what has been said, I do not necessarily wish to micro-manage at that level of detail the possibilities that exist, but if other parties wish to do so I am happy to reflect on those points.

Mark Durkan: I just want to correct the Minister. If a vacancy arises by dismissal, resignation or some other means in the Justice Ministry, as created under the Bill, it is not the case that there is an automatic re-run of d’Hondt—because, after all, the appointments are not d’Hondt appointments—any more than if a Minister resigns under d’Hondt or a party resigns on bloc under d’Hondt that forces a total rerun of d’Hondt. It does not.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution, but my understanding, and that of my officials who are concerned with this matter, is as I have just outlined to the House. His understanding appears to be different. There are issues on which we fundamentally disagree, but this is an issue on which I am just looking at the practicalities of the level of micro-management. I think that what I have said is the
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correct position; he may have a different interpretation. However, in both cases we are talking about situations that may occur in which, in effect, the First and Deputy First Ministers potentially would have to rat on their own parties as well. I am just looking at the mechanics of all this and trying to envisage circumstances in which such a thing could happen. My hon. Friend’s points undoubtedly have an element of validity, but I cannot envisage such circumstances. I would be grateful if he would not press his amendments to a Division. I will be happy to reflect on them with officials, and if other parties have views they can put them forward.

I do not wish to comment in detail on a matter that several hon. Members have mentioned in passing, but I will put a couple of points on the record. There has been discussion about the relationship between the PUP and UUP and the announcements that were made. As I said before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the matter is subject to legal discussion regarding the Assembly Speaker’s recognition of the UUP-PUP grouping as a party for Assembly purposes. She is likely to make a ruling later this week. I have heard what has been said about the political elements of the situation, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the legality of the situation because that will be subject to the Speaker’s ruling in the Assembly.

Given what has been said about the politics of any relationship, it is important that the Secretary of State has undertaken today to recognise the fact that the republican movement has taken steps. Admittedly, for some parties it has not gone far enough to move away from the violence that has occurred. Although there is more work to be done, the Independent Monitoring Commission reports indicate that the republican movement has taken serious steps to move away from criminality.

What the Secretary of State has said today emphasises the importance of loyalist paramilitaries undertaking to go down the same route. It is not acceptable for me or the Secretary of State that a situation exists in which there is officially no ceasefire from loyalist paramilitaries. I ask both loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republicans—the Continuity IRA and Real IRA, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for South Antrim—to abandon immediately their activities that lead to potential terrorism, threats and murder. That was the point that the Secretary of State was making. The relationships between political parties in the Assembly are a matter for those parties and the legal judgment of the Assembly Speaker.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I would like to put it on the record that when the Secretary of State came beforethe Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last week, no one was more rigorous in questioning him about loyalist paramilitaries and their nefarious deeds than the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon).

Mr. Hanson: I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) for the work that shehas done. On individual cases, such as that of her constituent Lisa Dorrian, she has been relentless in her pursuit of not only justice, but condemnation, which is a key matter than she holds dear to her heart.

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Dr. McCrea: There is not a potential threat from Continuity IRA or Real IRA. A bomb was primed in Londonderry and was headed, we believe, towards a police station. A bomb was being set in Lurgan. That was not a potential threat, but an active, real threat that terrorists were posing against the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hanson: I trust that the hon. Gentleman knows that I share his concern and condemnation. I also know that the bomb threats that occurred in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) were real and serious threats from dissident republicans. Again, to put the point into context in relation to the amendments, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was indicating that the republican movement has taken steps towards a more peaceful road. There is still work to be done, but there is clear intent and clear movement. The Secretary of State issued a challenge, with the words that the right hon. Member for North Antrim read to the House, to the dissident republican movement and the loyalist movement to take the same path.

Mr. Peter Robinson: The quotation that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) put on the record went beyond that. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State in his indication that Sinn Fein is now in a stronger position to be in an Executive than the Ulster Unionist party?

3.45 pm

Mr. Hanson: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have been in the Chamber and have not been able to see the Secretary of State’s words. It is my intention, and my view, that we should continue to welcome the movement by republicans towards a more peaceful road and that we should condemn the actions of dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries in the threat—potential, real or otherwise—that they pose to the community. I will not be satisfied in this post, and nor will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is responsible for security, until such time as we have a definitive ceasefire from the loyalists and the dissident republicans, and verification of that by the IMC in due course.

With the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, there is an element of consensus on the Government amendments. I appreciate the welcome from the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Belfast, North. I also appreciate my hon. Friend’s welcome for the assistance that I gave him.

Lady Hermon: Will the Minister clear up one issue raised by the Secretary of State in evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last week? In the context of the Bill, he said:

What exactly did he mean by saying that Sinn Fein will move on to policing once the Bill receives Royal Assent?

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Mr. Hanson: Again, there are two aspects of policy to consider. I believe that my right hon. Friend—and, potentially, Sinn Fein—want police and criminal justice devolved to the Assembly in due course. For that to happen, for the reasons that we all know, my right hon. Friend and I want Sinn Fein to be involved in supporting policing, because policing, criminal justice and the rule of law in the broader sense are central and essential to the democratic society in Northern Ireland, as they are elsewhere.

We should continue to encourage Sinn Fein to work towards playing its full part on the Policing Board and in supporting the police in their community. I recognise that we are not there yet, but I am very hopeful, as is my new colleague, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, that we will do that over time. Ultimately, I want devolution to take place, but I recognise, on all these matters, that it will only take place with the confidence of both sides of the community. I have put in place mechanisms in the amendments so that if Sinn Fein and others in the nationalist community sign up to policing and the conditions arise to devolve criminal justice and policing in due course, that will be done if the Assembly, along with the Secretary of the State and the House, want it.

Rev. Ian Paisley: What the people of Northern Ireland will wonder about is the Secretary of State’s statement that the Ulster Unionist party is now in a weaker position than Sinn Fein. He knows very well that the IMC report was unequivocal in its condemnation of the Ulster Volunteer Force. Three paragraphs of the report spell out that it is a terrorist body and is engaged in terrorism. How, then, can he say that there is a difference between the activity of Sinn Fein and the activity of the UVF, and that because the official Unionist party has gone into a coalition with the UVF spokesman, it is in a weaker position? We cannot balance aspects of terrorism. Terrorism is terrorism. It is not possible to say that one part is a bit weaker than another. How do we get over that problem?

Mr. Hanson: If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman has been entirely consistent in his condemnation of violence and terrorism. The points that he has made over the past few days have confirmed that consistency. I would simply say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believes that the republican movement, in the broadest sense, is moving towards a more peaceful route, has been verified by the IMC to that effect and is undertaking moves that, I hope, will lead to the restoration of the Assembly. I have not seen his remarks, but my understanding of what he said today is that there needs to be the same movement from Continuity IRA and Real IRA, the dissident republicans, and there needs to be the same movement from those loyalist groups that are currently not on ceasefire and are undertaking activity that has led to the deaths of a number of individuals over the12 months that I have held this office. I condemn all violence and all that paramilitary activity. I want to see an end to it, as I know do hon. Members on all sidesof the House. The Government are working towards that end.

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