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I was deeply concerned earlier this week when I learned of the extraordinary arrangement between the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Unionist party. I can well understand the misgivings that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) was courageous enough to proclaim in the House this afternoon. Let us hope that I am proved wrong, and that there is more to it than the official reason that was given immediately afterwards. Let us hope that what the hon. Lady heard last night turns out to be true. However, at the moment, it looks like a rather cynical manoeuvre, and it is one that I am deeply distressed about, having always had a profound respect for that party. It has had its ups and downs, but it has always been consistently and absolutely democratic and law abiding. To find it now put into the same category as Sinn Fein by the Secretary of States statement today is very distressing. I think that that was very unfair on his part, but it is nevertheless distressing.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has his misgivings. He said that he was unhappy about the new clauses, but he went on to say that he was happy about a pledge to uphold the rule of law. He referred to the events of earlier this week, and it is those events that underline the need for everyone who is to play a constructive part in the Northern Ireland Assembly, particularly those in the Executive who will govern the Province, to make a public proclamation of their dedication to upholding the rule of law. I hope that it will not be necessary to vote on the new clause, because I hope that we shall have a good response from the Minister, but if it is necessary to go into the Lobby, I shall certainly support my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury most strongly.
Sammy Wilson: The new clause is key to the likelihood of devolution being successfully implemented in Northern Ireland and to whatever devolved Government we set up being sustainable in the long run. It surprises me that there has already been resistance to it from the Government. Without a commitment by all those involved in the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland, and in the Executive within it, to supporting the police and upholding the rule of law, we can be sure that it will not be long before a crisis hits the Assembly and it collapses again. We have already experienced that. The previous Assembly stumbled from one crisis to another, and it was quite clear why that was happening. Periodically, one of the parties involved in the Executive showed that it did not support the police not only through its words but through its activities. It is unthinkable that we could have a workable Executive in which there was no commitment to upholding the rule of law and supporting the police.
My party and I share some of the reservations that have been expressed about the wording of the new clause. Of course it is possible for someone to take a pledge to uphold the rule of law and then totally disregard it, or say that their interpretation of it was different. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 required Ministers to be committed to exclusively peaceful means. The Sinn Fein Members signed up to that, while at the same time running a spy ring from their office. Members of their party were also engaged in gun running and, on a regular basis, extortion, criminality and murder were being carried out by the very people with whom they were associated.
Mrs. Iris Robinson: I want to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as a good terrorist, whether they are members of the UVF or the IRA, or Muslim extremists. If they are terrorists, they are terrorists, and murder is murder. I also want to point out how far down the road Sinn Fein-IRA have gone within the ethnic minority communities. Last year, the Government gave £10,000 to a community group called WARN, which stands for the West Against Racism Network. I think that it is well named. It operates out of west Belfast, and had prepared a package for ethnic minorities coming into west Belfast. A leaflet that was part of the package said that the PSNI was an extension of the British state and had no support in west Belfast, so it would not be in the interest of any ethnic minority grouping to call the police for any reason at all.
Despite reservations that we might have about the effectiveness of any additional pledge, we support the new clause for two reasons. First, it is at least a step in the right direction. It counters the wrong signals sent out by the Government at present. Members have already referred to the Secretary of State giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last Thursday, which was an interesting session. During it, I put a simple question to him. I asked him whether it was
possible for an executive to be set up in Northern Ireland, with ministers from Sinn Fein, even though Sinn Fein had not at that stage given their support for policing.
erect new hurdles to power sharing.
I do not want to make this
a pre-condition, and it will not be made a pre-condition, for the restoration of the institutions.
What could be a clearer signal to those who not only do not support the police but, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) has pointed out, actively discourage people from having anything to do with the police, even to the point that they seek to poison the minds of people who come to Northern Ireland from outside to get them into their way of thinking? Leaflets have been given to those who have come to west Belfast warning them not to go to the police station, not to report crimes to the police and not to go to the police station unaccompanied. What kind of message is that to send out?
The Secretary of State told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee last week that he did not wish to erect a barrier to the setting up of the institutions. In this case, he did not want us to insist that Sinn Fein should desist from that kind of poisoning of peoples minds. He went on to say that
there is no question that it is unsustainable in the medium-term, let alone the long- term, for parties to seek to have ministers in an executive when they are not co-operating with the police even at the most basic level or at a local level.
What is the medium term? How long can a Minister stay in office while the kind of poison that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford have describedabout not co-operating with the policeis pumped out by activists on the street?
At the weekend I did a television interview with a Sinn Fein representative. During the interview, I asked her whether she and her organisation would advise someone who had witnessed or had evidence of a rape to go to the police. One would have thought that a woman who was asked about that kind of issue would respond, Of course, such a violation should be immediately reported to the police, and anyone with information should go to the police. However, all I got was rhetoric about the police recruiting informers and gathering intelligence in republican areas. Even as a woman, that Sinn Fein representative could not say unequivocally We want people to report rapes to the police, and to give evidence. Someone who wants to be a Minister in a Government and who still associates with a party which, collectively and in terms of its individual members, gives such advice to the public is not fit to be in Government, and a Government containing such people will not, in my view, be sustainable.
Mr. Dodds: Does not the point become rather more telling when we consider that one of the responsibilities of the social development Ministera post that this Minister currently holds hererelates to antisocial behaviour orders, under housing legislation? It would be possible for a devolved social development Minister to deal with antisocial behaviour legislation in a housing context while not being prepared to tell people to support the PSNI, the agency that might be involved in enforcing the legislation. Surely that is nonsense.
Sammy Wilson: It would also be possible for an Education Minister not to encourage the public to give evidence when schools had been attacked and windows broken. I think that the new clause is a step in the right direction.
I do not want a late pre-condition established on top of the absolutely correct demands that have been made of republicans that they decommission, that they end their paramilitary activity and they end their criminality.
Let me make it clear that this is not a new precondition. It is not an attempt to create a hurdle. It is a long-standing requirement. It is what was meant by the reference in the pledge of office to being committed to entirely democratic and peaceful means. That must involve upholding and supporting the police, which has not been done. It is therefore important for us to send the right signal.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I believe that this argument has been weakened somewhat by the activities of one of the
Unionist parties in Northern Ireland. At least in the House of Commons, even today, all who represent the Unionist tradition have made it clear that they envisage no role in Government for those who have been involved in terrorism.
Only last week, when the Secretary of State appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) put on record what the IMC report had said in paragraphs 2.30 and 2.31 about the activities of the Ulster Volunteer Force. I will not read it out now, because time is short. Two days later, the hon. Lady was completely undermined by her own party, which seemed to have ignored all that the IMC had said because, in terms of ministerial posts, it was in its interests to do so. That was the reason given. At the weekend I conducted an interview with one of the partys leading negotiators, and that was the only reason he gave. He did not say that it would help the UUP to persuade the UVF to give up its guns and its criminality; he simply said that it would give the party an extra position should an Executive be established.
I believe that that cynical exercise has, to an extent, undermined the position that the Unionists have adopted. I should make it clear, however, that we believe the same requirement should apply across the board. We cannot allow it to be weakened by the fact that some may have decided for cynical reasons to ally themselves with those whom the IMC has accused of being engaged in all kinds of criminal and terrorist activity.
This is an important new clause. The Government must stop being ambivalent toward the behaviour of Sinn Fein and its associates, and toward that of others involved in terrorist activity. It does not matter whether or not the Minister includes this test in the Bill: we will apply it to Sinn Fein. It would be much better to include that test in the Bill, however, so that the clear message is sent to terrorists and to Sinn Fein that the whole democratic body of the United Kingdom supports the test and requires that it is met. But we will make the judgment, and as we have made clear today, if Sinn Fein persists in its refusal to back law and order and the police, and persists in its refusal to encourage those who are influenced by it to support the police, it will not be regarded as fit for government and will not be included in the Executive.
The Minister is keen to have devolution in Northern Ireland by the end of November. The one way to ensure that that does not happen is to allow Sinn Fein to believe that it is not going to be pushed into doing the proper thing, the democratic thing, the right thing, which is to support the police, who will have to enforce the laws that they would wish to pass in an Executive.
Mr. Hanson: For the avoidance of any doubt, I say straight away to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) that I will not be ambivalent in my comments on support for policing. This Government, the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) and I all believe that Sinn Fein should be involved in, sign up to and support policing, and that it should take its places on the Policing Board. I am not going to
defend in this House a situation in which attacks on schools could occur, or in which individuals are not encouraged to go to the police to ensure that information about rapes is passed on. I make it clear to the hon. Member for East Antrim and others that the Government look forward to the day when Sinn Fein members take their place on the Policing Board and all citizens of Northern Ireland respect and support policing in the community and at large.
Dr. McCrea: Let us be clear: simply joining the Policing Board is not the test; the test is actively supporting the actions of the security forces as they establish democracy, the rule of law and the end of criminality in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Hanson: I believe that everybody has the right to support the rule of law in that way. My problem with the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury relates to the ability to legislate according to it. First, it is important to put on the record that there is movement in the direction of travel that those who have spoken today want to see. In paragraph 2.19 of its 10th report, the Independent Monitoring Commissionan independent body, not the Government or a political party represented in this Housestates:
We believe that the leadership
has accepted the need to engage in policing if it is to achieve its aim of devolution of policing and justice to an Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland. It has not...yet determined how this might be delivered,
It remains our absolutely clear view that the PIRA leadership has committed itself to following a peaceful path.
I recognise that there is more work to be done, and in my role as Minister I will do all that I can to ensure that that it is done. The hon. Member for East Antrim said that there is a problem of definition with the new clause, and that is the nub of the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) intimated as much, because we cannot define what the rule of law means or what support for it means. We know the direction of travel in broad terms, but I cannot define it in legislation.
Mr. Hanson: I put my points to the House and that is one of the points that it is important to recognise. I draw the attention of hon. Members back to a point that I discussed earlier, which concerns the pledge of
office. The pledge of office in place at present ensures that all Ministers must affirm, before taking any post, a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. The current pledge of office can also be affected by IMC recommendationsand that is an important point. For example, if a future IMC report determined that individuals or organisations were not acting in the spirit of the pledge of office, safeguards are in place so that action could be taken.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I have a high regard for the Minister, as he knows, but there are times when the Government have to behave with real firmness. We need the smack of firm Government. The Government must tell these people that unless they make such a pledge, there is no place for them in the Government of any part of the UK. If the Government do not do that, they will not achieve devolved Government in Northern Irelandwhich we want them to achieve.
Mr. Hanson: I reciprocate the hon. Gentlemans sentiments, but he will understand that every hon. Member who has spoken today shares the same objective. I simply do not feel that legislating for it in the way proposed, with due respect to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, would achieve that end or, for the reasons of definition mentioned by the hon. Member for East Antrim, be applicable.
Rev. Ian Paisley: The situation arose after those men had taken that pledge: they resorted to violence and some of them made statements justifying it. Why was nothing done then? The Government did not say that those men had to leave the Executive: they closed down the whole lot. I was accused of a sin and so were all the other Members, but those men were not.
Mr. Hanson: If the right hon. Gentleman is not happy with the current pledge of office and its operationI take it from his comments that he is notI have given a commitment previously, and I reaffirm it today, that we are happy to consider further legislation in due course on a stronger pledge of office, if such measures are produced by agreement as part of discussions of strand 1 issues. He will know that I am happy to discuss that and, in fact, I have sat across a table from his colleagues and raised the prospect with them.
For the avoidance of doubt, I confirm that the Government are committed to supporting the rule of law and the involvement of Sinn Fein and other interested parties in policing. That is essential, but the new clause would not assist in that process and I ask the hon. Member for Tewkesbury to withdraw it.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: Given the fact that we have to finish this debate in less than a minute, I do not have time to go through the various arguments that have been made. The new clause is not watertight, but no legislation is. However, as the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said, it would be a significant move in the right direction if we were to adopt it. I therefore have no option but to press the new clause to a vote.
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