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(b) approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with the support of a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting.'.
(b) in relation to which an Act of the Assembly provides, by virtue of section 21A(2A), for it to be in the charge of a Northern Ireland Minister (the relevant Minister) appointed by virtue of a nomination
(ii) approved by a resolution of the Assembly passed with the support of a majority of the members voting on the motion for the resolution, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting.
(10) If the relevant Minister ceases to hold office at any time, otherwise than by virtue of sub-paragraph (1), the relevant Ministerial office shall be filled by applying sub-paragraphs (3) to (6) within a period specified in standing orders.
(13) In this paragraph, a reference to a period of exclusion under any provision is, in the case of a period of exclusion under that provision which has been extended, a reference to that period as extended.'.
Mr. Hanson: Over the course of its consideration, on Second Reading, in Committeeparticularly given that there was a Committee of the whole Houseand on Report, we have had a useful discussion about the principles of the Bill. I commend right hon. and hon. Members on their valuable contributions to todays debate. Contrary to assertions made by Members, the Government have listened to some of the points that have been made and have tabled amendments that have made a material difference to the nature of the Bill. As with every piece of legislation, it is not possible to accept every amendment or every point made in the debate. There will be differences between us, but I have moved on several points and I am pleased to see that those have been incorporated in the Third Reading of the Bill.
As right hon. and hon. Members will know, there is a clear path open to us now on Northern Irelands political development to ensure that, as has been stated by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, by the end of 2006 we bring about clear political progress for the political organisations in Northern Ireland and for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland. It is now for local politicians to take forward that task of devolution. I am pleased that we are meeting today, in the week that the Assembly reconvened following the passing of earlier legislation; that we have in place Assembly Members who are signed up again to take part in the Assembly; and that we had debates on the Floor of the Assembly this week, with participation from Members from across the Assembly. I believe, as do the Government, that the Assembly offers a better future for Northern Ireland. Now, through the Bill, we are in a position to take forward the possible next stages of devolution in Northern Ireland by devolving criminal justice and policing.
Given what has been said today, no one fails to accept that there are still major hurdles to overcome and that work must be done, not least to get the proper Executive-led Assembly back in place by November. Additionally, difficulties are self-evident to anyone who has been involved in our debates on the possible devolution of criminal justice and policing. However, the Bill sets a clear path before the House: devolution in October or NovemberI hopeat the very latest with the Executive back in place. At some point in the future, we will have the framework and opportunity for the devolution of criminal justice and policing. For the sake of having the discussion again, the famous tripleor perhaps now even quadruplelock is in place whereby the Assembly, the Secretary of State and the Government must agree with the House of Commons if such devolution is to take place. In all essence, however, the framework is in place.
The framework is in place because, hopefully, no one can deny that there is progress towards a political
solution in Northern Ireland, however slow that might seem. The latest IMC report of 26 April states that the Provisional IRA leadership is committed to a peaceful path. There is work to be done and efforts to be undertaken, but we must realise that there is movement and that Northern Ireland today is unrecognisable from how it was at the height of the troubles in recent years.
The Bill makes progress on the devolution of policing and criminal justice, but it does much more than that. It takes forward the modernisation of our electoral system so that we will be brought in line, over a staged period, with the rest of the United Kingdoms electoral law on political party funding. It also modernises the electoral canvass and allows for the appointment and operation of the chief electoral officer. Again, it does so to put Northern Ireland in a fair frame of progress towards proper elections and electoral law.
The Bill also provides for an extension to the order-making power under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 to facilitate the continued decommissioning of loyalist weapons. That issue has been a major bone of contention today, but I will press, along with hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially the hon. Member for North Down(Lady Hermon) and DUP Members, for the decommissioning of loyalist weapons. The Bill puts in place a framework to give us extra time, should we need it.
The Bill will also make important contributions to the existing criminal justice and policing regimes in Northern Ireland. It will give investigators and prosecutors new powers to tackle serious and organised crime. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is new to his position, will be taking forward those measures in due course to ensure that we do what we say we will do, namely, crack down on organised crime and criminality in Northern Ireland. We will continue to take the effective steps that have been seen over the past few weeks to tackle the cross-border smuggling of petrol and cigarettes, and other problems.
An issue close to the heart of the hon. Member for North Down is central to the Bill. The Bill provides corporation sole status to the office of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I gave her an assurance that we would do that when we were considering the on-the-runs legislation in Committee and, following her representations, we have done so. We have responded to her concerns, sodare I say?the Government have listened. We have also responded to other points that members of that Committee raised, albeit not all of them.
There are several other key aspects of the Bill that we should consider. Only today I moved a new clause on sustainable development, which is now part of the Bill, to ensure that we protect our environment for our children and grandchildren. We have introduced important measures to safeguard the future of the environment and are giving legal status to the£59 million investment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has brought forward to support
sustainable development. That means, in real life, that we can use the £59 million to do important things for the people of Northern Ireland. That includes putting solar panelsthis is part of my political domainin new social build housing, with 600 panels this year and 600 next year, to help the environment. Those are the challenges on improving our environment.
The Bill also contains key provisions for a single wholesale electricity market, with opportunities for new investment, new efficiencies, new economies of scale and security of supplythe things that matter to the people on the island of Ireland as a whole, both north and south of the border. It is a pragmatic approach, welcomed by all hon. Members, to support the economic well-being of Northern Ireland in the future. The Bill achieves what it set out to achieveit helps us to make progress on the devolution of policing; it modernises our election law; it provides support for sustainable development; and it looks at giving extra support to tackling crime. It is a good Bill.
On behalf of the ministerial team, I thank the many officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the devolved Executive, reporting to direct rule Ministers, for the time and effort that they put in over many weeks, months and, in some cases, years, to bring the clauses to fruition. A tremendous amount of work went on behind the scenes. As a Minister, it is important that I recognise that.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: By and large, we welcome the Bill, although we have tried to improve it in various ways. I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced it and took it through Committee. It has been possible to explore it in great detail, and he was always willing to take interventions. It does credit to the House that we have analysed it in that way, in particular on the Floor of the House, which has been useful in part.
We have some concerns. We were worried about abolishing the annual canvass and tried to put a time scale on that so that there would be canvasses in 2015 at the latest and every 10 years after that. We were also a little concerned about the ability of the chief electoral officer, working with the Secretary of State, to cancel those canvasses, but we are where we are and we recognise the need to modernise the system. The important thing is that we have a full register of electors in Northern Ireland.
We were a bit concerned about the donations for political purposes, although we did not touch on that greatly. We would have liked a time limit on donations from the Republic of Ireland, but the Government turned that down. I regret that. We tabled an amendment to address that, but sadly we did not reach it because of the lack of time. However, those donations remain a concern, for obvious reasons.
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