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The biggest issue covered by the Bill is the devolution of policing and justice. Although we have no objection to that in principle, we have discussed it at length and are worried that responsibility for it could fall into the
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wrong hands. I recognise that we have the double-double lock, the treble lock or the quadruple lock—or whatever it is—and that the Assembly does not have to accept responsibility for policing and justice. However, whether or not policing and justice are devolved, the points raised in connection with that are extremely important.

I spoke about my experiences in South Armagh, but did not get a chance to expand on those because of the 6 o’clock deadline. When I visited it last week—I was pleased that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee also visited it last week, and that the Chairman confirmed that my experiences were his—it was stressed that there had been a huge improvement in the area. However, it can by no means be considered normal when the police cannot go out on their own. That is not acceptable in any part of the United Kingdom. Whether certain people in that area like it or not, it is part of the United Kingdom. One of the most alarming things was that the police told me that the MP for that area would not engage with them. That is unacceptable, especially when that person is a Member of the Assembly, could become a Minister, and could become the Minister with responsibility for the police. However, at this point that person will not engage with them. Moving on from that, we wanted to try to make it a little more secure that people holding office in Northern Ireland actually supported the rule of law.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) mentioned that when he did a television programme and asked a Sinn Fein supporter whether they would report a crime, he gave as an example the crime of rape. If someone had such knowledge and did not report it, they would not be upholding the rule of law. It is not acceptable for such a person to sit in government. It is unfortunate that the Minister did not accept our amendments in that respect. We pressed them to the vote and did not win, but we made the point. It was not a watertight measure, but it would have moved the situation in the right direction.

Again, we have not discussed the electricity market in great detail on the Floor of the House, although we discussed it upstairs. My understanding—this is not a criticism; it has been a good start—is that the Bill does not create the wholesale electricity market, as it is headlined in the Bill. According to the discussions I have had with the authorities in Northern Ireland, it will provide the ability to coordinate the regulation of the market in Northern Ireland with the regulation of the market in the Republic of Ireland. That may be a useful step but, in order for consumers in Northern Ireland to get the full benefit of that, they need to go further and to have a true market covering the whole of Ireland and, indeed, possibly the whole of Ireland and the United Kingdom. A bigger market, especially if they can move towards a freer market, will lead to lower electricity prices.

I welcome the possibility of financial assistance for energy purposes, which is in clause 23, especially renewable energy. It is important that we develop renewable energy, first, because it is renewable and helps to reduce emissions of poisonous gases, and secondly, because it would provide security of supply. We have seen throughout the world a rather unsettled
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market in primary sources of energy. If we look at what is happening in certain areas of South America and at the behaviour of Russia on one or two occasions, it is clear that we need a more secure energy supply in this country.

I pay tribute to the answer that the Prime Minister gave during Prime Minister's questions today. He gave a balanced and positive view of energy policy. I hope that he has the courage to pursue that policy against the opposition of certain members of his own party. It is important that he does so. I give a word of warning on clause 23. In Great Britain, we have not developed renewable energy as well as we should. It still provides a very small percentage of the electricity that we use. If we are going to pursue that in Northern Ireland, we need to do more not only on energy conservation, but on the development of renewable energy. It is not being developed in this country quickly enough. I hope that we can use the Bill to study why that has not been the case and to move on renewable energy a little more quickly in Northern Ireland than we have in Great Britain.

I have made just a few observations; perhaps other hon. Members want to contribute. By and large, we welcome the Bill. There are not many of my colleagues here tonight, but they have contributed a great deal in Committee, particularly the Chairman of the Select Committee. I thank them for their help and support during the passage of the Bill.

6.35 pm

Mr. McGrady: Generally, my party welcomes the Bill, which is more miscellaneous than most of us expected. The Minister said that he has achieved what he set out to achieve, and that seems to have been his attitude every time that he saw a new draft or provision. None the less, the Bill usefully deals with the multitude of issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson). Some of its provisions are essential, some are useful and some are convenient but, none the less, they all contribute to the whole.

On behalf of my party, may I pay tribute to Ministers who have moved on from the Northern Ireland Office, hopefully to greater things as a result of the fine training that we gave them and the multi-faceted experience that they gained? May I welcome to the Front Bench the new Ministers with whom we hope to do good business in the months ahead? The Bill is interesting, as it does not have a central theme and changes gear in each part. I was disappointed that we did not manage to debate some of our new clauses because of the 6 o’clock deadline. That is especially true of the new clause that deals with the powers of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Notwithstanding the lack of debate, perhaps the Minister can take on board our efforts to give the commission powers that are available to other human rights commissions, especially in the south of Ireland, so that it can act in accordance with European Union requirements on human rights. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission does not have investigatory powers to pursue people and papers.

Mr. Hanson: Given that we failed to reach new clause 9, may I give my hon. Friend an assurance that we seek to implement the results of our consultation on
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the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission at an appropriate time? His proposal may not have found favour today, but its broad principles should receive Government support in future.

Mr. McGrady: I thank the Minister for giving an undertaking, on the record, to pursue the matter with more urgency. I recall that the issue was to be examined six years ago.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have been lenient with the hon. Gentleman, who has received more than he expected. We are now debating the contents of the Bill.

Mr. McGrady: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is no harm in making the attempt, but I accept your rap on the knuckles.

I thank the Minister not just for his intervention, but for the commitments, undertakings and reviews that he has promised in the months ahead. The atmosphere in Committee and throughout proceedings on the Bill is indicative of a new understanding or tolerance across the Floor of the House. I experienced it, too, when we debated the Northern Ireland Act 2006. A clear understanding of the needs and requirements of the two communities in Northern Ireland was given positive expression, and I hope that that will be translated substantively and directly to the new Assembly, which was reconvened on Monday and Tuesday this week. I am sure that it is appropriate to say in the House that we wish the Assembly a fair wind in dealing with the many difficult problems that it faces to enable people to move from entrenched positions so that they can accommodate one another. The contents of this and other Bills will assist that process. Hopefully, this will be the last such Bill to come before the House, because all the matters that it covers, with the exception of reserved matters, will be dealt with by an Executive of the Northern Ireland parties on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Donaldson: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the new Assembly. I also welcome the participation of the SDLP in the proceedings of the Assembly earlier this week. Will he join me in expressing regret that one party—Sinn Fein—which absents itself from this House, was also absent on Tuesday from the debate on the economy? Is it not time that it ended its abstentionism?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) again that we are discussing precisely the contents of the Bill today.

Mr. McGrady: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That saves me thinking of a suitable response to the last intervention. I shall simply say, “Noted and agreed.”

Some of the comments made on Report disturbed me. It seemed as though certain parties were flagging up new pre-conditions for the effective devolution of policing and justice. Without going into detail because of the time factor, I urge the Government to do all in their power not to fall into the trap that they have
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fallen into repeatedly with demands from Sinn Fein and, with respect, demands from the Democratic Unionist party, which are pre-conditions to further progress. The whole thrust and ethos of making progress in Northern Ireland is that no party has a veto on progress over other parties. That has been neglected or severely damaged in the past two or three years.

Even today, a certain pre-condition seemed to be imposed by the DUP, which sounded to me like an everlasting ban on Sinn Fein being accepted into government. That sounded a negative note—the only negative note. I know the concerns that DUP Members have, because I have exactly the same concerns. We cannot have people in government who do not fully, honestly and openly support law and order. However, that should not be used in a dramatic way in terms of the purity of the situation.

It is difficult when one is dealing with human relationships and things evolve and change daily. We should not box ourselves in with pre-conditions. For instance, the Government allowed Sinn Fein to say that it would not join the Policing Board until the DUP agreed to the devolution of policing and justice. That is a crazy situation, in which we should not allow ourselves to be involved. We need openness to achieve progress in Northern Ireland. The Bill, with its various provisions covering elections, funding, donations and the matters that we discussed today regarding policing and justice, will contribute to a healthy debate in Northern Ireland. I hope that we can translate the very good atmosphere in the House today to the Floor of the Assembly. If we do, the hope of achieving full, lasting and proper devolution to Northern Ireland will be greatly enhanced.

6.43 pm

Lembit Öpik: When I think of the range of the Bill—sustainable development, policing and justice, criminal damage, registration of electors, children, commitment to the rule of law, powers of the Human Rights Commission, primacy in intelligence gathering, donations to political parties and so on—it is amazing that it is possible to be out of order on any of the subjects that we have covered, but we have even achieved that.

I noted the Minister’s praise of his team. He has made some terrible mistakes by not listening more to the sage advice offered to him by Opposition parties. I know from personal experience how wonderful the Northern Ireland Office team is, and no doubt they support him superbly. I am sure that they agree that the Minister should have taken on some of our amendments, given their fine judgments on these matters.

The Minister has shown some signs of listening in the past few hours. If in some small way we have opened his ears to be more inclusive in his politics with regard to Northern Ireland, then the debate on Report and Third Reading will have been worthwhile.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) highlighted some issues about which he is concerned. I broadly agree with him and share the same concerns, which I do not need to repeat.

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I remain concerned that there is a weakness in the 50:50:50 process in securing cross-community support, and I am worried that that will once again get in the way in the months ahead. I hope that the Minister will at least take on board and consider our points on that matter.

I am also concerned about the census. We have made a mistake by allowing such a preposterously long period in keeping the census up to date. All the good work and the enormous investment of time and money which has been carried out to make sure that we have the most accurate electoral register in the United Kingdom will fade away because of the length of time between electoral censuses. Once again, I hope that the Minister will reflect on that point, and if my rather gloomy prediction turns out to be right, perhaps the Government will revisit the enormously long period between censuses.

Finally, I recently saw a fine show in Majorca called, “Pirates”—I attended to help raise money for Great Ormond Street hospital. As I watched the show, I thought about how this Government plunder the goodwill of Northern Ireland politicians—some of us have covered this particular portfolio for almost a decade. They have stolen money from students by introducing a truly unpopular method of student support, and they have also threatened the Northern Irish people with enormous hikes in their utility bills in order to undo damage which was not caused by the citizens themselves.

If the politicians of Northern Ireland use this Bill and other legislation as a spur to restart the Stormont Assembly, then Northern Ireland will not have to endure the injustices that are endlessly meted out to them by the Government as a whole rather than by this particular Minister.

Mr. Hanson indicated assent.

Lembit Öpik: Look how quickly the Minister is willing to blame his colleagues as he seeks to protect himself.

There will be no hiding place if the Assembly is re-established. I respectfully point out once again that there is a powerful incentive for Northern Ireland politicians to regard this Bill, which will soon be enacted, and other legislation, as an opportunity to provide a firewall between the legislation that the Government will impose through Statutory Instrument Committees and the alternative legislation that Northern Ireland politicians are collectively likely to introduce in the Assembly. As the Bill passes into law, I hope that the DUP and others find it easier to work together, even with those parties that they still distrust and unquestionably dislike, because it is surely in the greater interests of the citizens whom they represent for those differences to be managed and Northern Ireland politics to be established on a devolutionary footing, which I hope and believe that we all want to see.

6.49 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me for two minutes. I will try to keep my word, although I did not give it.

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I was surprised by the remarks of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). He has been preaching for a very long time that we must all bow to the Anglo-Irish agreement, which he says is the great test. The Anglo-Irish agreement—[Hon. Members: “The Belfast agreement.] Whatever one likes to call it—Good Friday, bad Friday or rotten Friday. I want to say to the House that this is where the government of Northern Ireland, and what we do, should be decided. It should not be decided by votes taken in the south of Ireland and then people scrambling out every time there is difficulty saying, “The whole of Ireland agreed to this.” The whole of Ireland has nothing to do with it. This is the United Kingdom and we have a right to decide what we do.

We are making no pre-conditions. Everybody knows what I have said; I have been saying it for a long time. I have been castigated and kicked in this House, treated as a leper, refused admittance to Downing street for two years and six months, and so on and so forth, and I am still saying the same thing. The Prime Minister said the same thing from the Front Bench. If he wants to break his word to the people of Northern Ireland, we will not be breaking our word to the people who have voted for us.

We are in great difficulties because on Monday and Tuesday we discovered that the Ulster Unionist party had entered into an agreement with the Progressive Unionist party. Any Minister of this Government who is prepared to defend the PUP has only to read what the report that Government Ministers love to read—the Independent Monitoring Commission report—has said about it. All that I can say is that we have a tougher road to travel, and we had better remember that. I hope that this House will remember that, by passing this Bill without amendments that would have been useful to us in the battle to keep to democracy, it is really responsible for what happens.

I think that I have exceeded my time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Thank you.

6.51 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson: I thank the Minister for the way in which he has led throughout the various stages of the passage of the Bill. I join other hon. Members in welcoming the two new Ministers who are sitting with him on the Front Bench. I hope that they have a profitable and enjoyable time in Northern Ireland. I also hope that they get an opportunity to get out and see its many beauties, most of which are confined to east Belfast—

Rev. Ian Paisley: The Giant’s Causeway.

Dr. McCrea: South Antrim.

Mr. Robinson: Any other bids?

Let me go beyond the welcomes to say that I appreciate that the Government have made some amendments that improve the Bill. Should the circumstances ever arise whereby policing and justice powers can be devolved, my party, regardless of what any other party does, believes in the primacy of the electoral mandate. As a party, we are mandated to seek devolution for Northern Ireland. We want that
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devolution to be stable, accountable, effective and efficient. Those were the principles that we enunciated for many years. I believe that we have moved towards that, making some progress along the way, but barriers still remain. The principal barrier has been Sinn Fein and its relationship with the IRA, to which it is inextricably linked. As a party that was entitled to be in government under existing legislation, it was clearly necessary that it met the standards of democracy, that it decommissioned all its weapons, and that it ensured that there was a complete and unalterable end to all of its paramilitary and criminal activity.

Those are all essentials for government. They are even more essential in relation to the devolution of policing and justice suggested in the Bill. When the last report by the Independent Monitoring Commission was published, we said openly in this House that some progress had been made, but that there were still grey areas and loose ends that needed to be addressed. So I am sure that the Minister will accept that many of us were shocked when a spanner was thrown into the works this week by the irrational decision of the Ulster Unionist party to embrace the Progressive Unionist party, whose members are the spokespersons for the UVF.

I knew instinctively that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) would be opposed to that marriage, and that was confirmed during the debate. The relationship undermines her, however, and I regret these circumstances because there will now be a mountain to climb in regard to devolution unless these matters can be undone. We will await the ruling of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly on this, but the Speaker can rule in favour of the decision of the Ulster Unionist party Assembly group only if she believes that that group is a separate political party. The party’s representatives indicated that they had formed a new political party. That is what the Speaker was instructed by the Ulster Unionist party’s Assembly representatives—

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