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The key to the future peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland lies in the shared future that the new Assembly and Executive epitomise. That shared future must go beyond the “big politics” of Parliament Buildings. Astonishing as the political transformation over the past two years has been, there is much more to be done. We must find a way of dealing with the past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors. Although last summer’s marching season went off more peacefully and with
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greater consultation than ever before, a global solution to parading still needs to be negotiated. I hope that the review team headed by Lord Paddy Ashdown will help to achieve that. There are still too many so-called “peace walls” that divide communities in Northern Ireland, and some parts of Northern Ireland society continue to feel isolated, marginalised, deprived and out of the mainstream. I am thinking especially of loyalism and its place in the shared future.

We have always said that we would support and encourage those who wanted to work to a positive agenda, who wanted to bring about change and who had sustainable mechanisms for doing that. People have a right to have their identity, their culture and their traditions respected, but if loyalism does not get into the mainstream and catch the tide that is taking Northern Ireland forward, there is a real danger that, despite the best intentions, the loyalist community will be left behind and further isolated, because no one will understand why there are groups within loyalism that still cling to an armed past. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando that they will end their paramilitary activity was therefore very welcome.

Guns, drugs and crime have no place within a community whose people want the best for their families, the best for their community and recognition of their core values. I want loyalism to play a full part in the new Northern Ireland—a full part in the shared future—as we should all want it to do, because loyalism anchored to peace, the rule of law and democracy has an honourable place in that future.

Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably since direct rule was introduced in 1972—the year when, as a student, I first visited. Apart from anything else, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a multicultural, multi-faith and forward-looking community, as evidenced by the election of Anna Lo as the first person of Chinese origin to become a member of a legislative body in Europe. That is not the only such first for Northern Ireland; it also had the first civil partnership ceremony anywhere in the UK. That is all part of the shared future.

The whole process demonstrates what relentless attention by Government and persistent negotiations regardless of crises, collapses and depressing stalemates can achieve, and that must give hope to those trying to resolve conflicts the world over. For generations, the politics of Northern Ireland has been a sometimes murderous zero-sum game of winners and losers. Yesterday saw an end to that, and whatever the challenges that lie ahead, they will be played out on the field of politics and democracy.

The Members of the Legislative Assembly who came together in Parliament Buildings yesterday amidst a great joyous mood of reconciliation carry the hopes and aspirations of a people who have yearned for peace, stability and prosperity, and who have waited so terribly long to see it. I know that the whole House will support all of them as we enter this new and exciting era.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): May I first thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it? As the restoration of devolution to Stormont has resulted in changes in the
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Secretary of State’s ministerial team, may I also take this opportunity to say that Conservative Members will miss the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns)? Both of those former Northern Ireland Ministers have always been courteous and good-humoured in their dealings with the Opposition and we wish them both well.

I am happy to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Secretary of State’s words about all those whose efforts over the years made possible yesterday’s historic and moving ceremony at Stormont. Of course, politicians of all parties did their bit, but I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that peace today would not have been possible without the courage and sacrifice of the police and the armed forces, and the dogged endurance of the people of Northern Ireland over nearly 40 years of violence.

As the Secretary of State acknowledged in his statement, devolution now opens the door to enduring peace and genuine reconciliation, but daunting challenges nevertheless remain. I want to put questions to him about three of those challenges, the first of which concerns loyalism. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force was indeed welcome, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is not enough for the UVF just to declare that it has abandoned violence? It needs to show by its actions that it actually has done so. It must decommission its weapons, and decommissioning needs to be independently verified by General de Chastelain’s commission.

The second challenge concerns the future of the Provisional IRA. The Government and the Independent Monitoring Commission say that the IRA is no longer a terrorist threat, which is welcome news indeed, yet it remains a proscribed terrorist organisation on both sides of the Irish border. If we are to consider devolving criminal justice, including decisions about prosecutions, to devolved Ministers in as little as 11 months from now, surely that paradox has to be resolved. Do the Government believe that the IRA has now transformed itself into a kind of old comrades association that no longer needs to be proscribed? On the other hand, if proscription is still right and necessary, do the Government believe that at the same time it is right to entrust the criminal justice system to people who include those who, until recently, were active IRA commanders and who still maintain the strongest of ties to that organisation?

Thirdly, what steps do the Government propose to take to help Northern Ireland come to terms with its past? As the Secretary of State knows, there are nearly 2,000 unsolved murders from the troubles—2,000 families and networks of friends who have had no sense of justice being done. Thousands of victims and bereaved families will carry physical and emotional scars for as long as they live. At present, a number of different types of selective historical inquiry are taking place into particular killings. As the Secretary of State knows, responses to those inquiries are eating up a vast amount of police time and resources, which are having to be diverted from current policing priorities. I acknowledge the acute sensitivity of this issue and I accept that there is unlikely to be a quick or easy answer. However, does the Secretary of State agree
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with me that coming to terms with the past is essential if we are to build genuine reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and that that should be done in a way that puts the interests of victims and families first? Will he work now with other parties in this House and in Northern Ireland to see if together we can agree on a way forward?

Mr. Hain: I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s statement in broad terms, but first, with permission, Mr. Speaker, may I send my commiserations to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), at the death over the weekend from cancer, at the age of only 45, of George Dawson, a Member of the Legislative Assembly? He was the grandmaster of the Independent Orange Lodge, and his funeral is tomorrow. Also, I acknowledge that, because MLAs are today running procedures for appointing their committee chairmen and women, vice-chairs and other committee members, DUP Members have been unable to attend the House today as I know they would have wished to do.

In responding to the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I first thank him for the warm remarks he made about my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who played an outstanding role over the past two years, helped me and the whole process immeasurably and is hugely respected. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) has also done excellent work over this past year. My right hon. Friend’s remaining portfolio of the political process and criminal justice will be taken over by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who will do an outstanding job as she has done in the past year in other areas, and by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who has gained huge respect. He has been a fantastic security Minister, and he will continue to be so.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the outstanding courage that has been shown by the police and the armed forces over the decades of the troubles. He made the strong point, with which I agree, that loyalism and the loyalist leaders must do more than simply make promises, as the UVF did, in very welcome terms, last week. I have asked the Chief Constable for advice on whether specification is still appropriate for the UVF and I await that advice in due course. It was very important that the leadership of the UVF declared its intention to abandon paramilitarism and criminality in the clearest terms, but the hon. Gentleman was right to say that there has to be delivery on the decommissioning of weapons. There was a certain uncertainty about what that meant exactly, and the only legal way to decommission in the sense that will give confidence to the rest of the community—including this House—is to engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

On the question that the hon. Gentleman raised about the future of the Provisional IRA, he will know that the IMC made a particular point of saying not just that it had disbanded its paramilitary capacity and its engineering capacity to wage terror or war or violence in the future, but that the leadership had also, through
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the discipline of its organisation, managed to deliver that and get all the members and so-called volunteers to abide by its diktat, including ending criminality. The IMC was clear on that point. Obviously, there need to be further developments, but the intention to devolve policing and justice is an ambition of the Government’s, agreed at St. Andrews and repeated since.

We would like to see a target of May next year, by which time the devolution of policing and justice can be achieved. That policy is supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland, although there are disagreements, especially among the DUP and the UUP about whether the target of barely a year’s time is achievable. Let us see whether the incredible pace of change over the past few weeks, expressed yesterday—and, in a sense, sanctified yesterday—can see that progress being made. Undoubtedly, that will have to take into account the wider security situation.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sinn Fein Ministers, and it was significant yesterday that they willingly and without qualification took the pledge of office, which included an absolute commitment, as the House legislated in the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, to support the police and the rule of law.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point about the past, and that is why I said in my statement that the past still has to be addressed. I was very struck, as I know he will have been on his frequent visits—people appreciate the diligence with which he pursues his duties—by the fact that, despite the incredible events that led up to the remarkable nature of yesterday, Northern Ireland still keeps getting dragged back to the past. Although inquiries must naturally reach their end—costing £2 million so far; £100 million has gone to pay lawyers’ fees, which are ratcheting up astronomically day by day—I do not think that they will deal with the past, whatever may emerge from the reports that are produced. We need to have a frank debate and I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman a categoric assurance that we are considering the issue. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries and I will look into that and consult widely with the parties, and I will certainly talk to other parties about it, including the hon. Gentleman’s. We must try to find a way of consulting that enables us to move forward and underpins the developments of yesterday. I am grateful for his support.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): I very much welcome the wholesome and full statement made by the Secretary of State to reflect what happened at Stormont yesterday. It was a day that I have longed to see throughout the time that I have been in public office—and I have held office for some four decades, during the worst of the troubles. Enormous progress has been made.

Like those who spoke yesterday, the Secretary of State was right to remember the victims and survivors in our society. They must be remembered, as must the fact that some of the people who hold the highest office have been purveyors of hatred and perpetrators of violence. They in turn must do all in their power to undo their evil deeds and attitudes. I hope that the Secretary of State will use his office to facilitate that.

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In his statement, the Secretary of State said that we had witnessed the “final resolution” of the problems in Northern Ireland, but does he agree with the First Minister, who said yesterday that we were at the beginning of the resolution of our problems, and that yesterday was a new beginning? Also, does he agree that the shared future to which he referred, and to which we all aspire, is one that must be shared not only by the extremes but by the entire community?

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Chancellor makes available a reasonable financial package to assist progress in Northern Ireland? We do not have a begging-bowl attitude but, over 35 years of direct rule, much of our infrastructure has been neglected or, at the very least, not been kept up to standard. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take on board the points that I have made.

Mr. Hain: I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Yesterday closed the door on the past and opened the door to a new future, but there are still many challenges ahead. I agree too that the shared future must involve everyone, and not just the most polarised parts of the politics.

I pay special tribute to the role played by the hon. Gentleman and his Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues. They were there right at the beginning of the process, along with members of the Ulster Unionist party. I should also like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and her colleagues. David Trimble and others showed tremendous courage at the beginning of the process, and took a lot of hits for doing so, but the SDLP deserves particular praise for expressing its support for policing at a time when that was a most difficult thing to do in nationalist communities. That helped to create the circumstances that were signalled and symbolised so momentously yesterday.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) asked about a financial package, and he is right to say that that has nothing to do with a begging-bowl mentality. It is about giving the new Executive a flying start and the best possible financial platform from which to deliver for the voters, so many of whom made it clear in the elections in February and March that they wanted devolution to be successful and local politicians to take charge. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is very aware of that, and big progress has been made even over the past few days. I am sure that a satisfactory package can be finalised.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As the longest serving Northern Ireland spokesperson for any mainland party, I have seen the peace process from its difficult beginning to its happier end. In those 10 years, as the Government’s critical friend and ally, I never lost faith. In that context, I applaud the current Secretary of State—and especially his predecessor the late Mo Mowlam, without whom the peace process would never really have got off the ground.

I also add my praise for the contribution made by David Trimble, which has never really been fully appreciated by the House at large. In addition, we should acknowledge that this is a truly valuable part of the Prime Minister’s legacy, and something of which he can be proud.

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The unsung heroes of the peace process are the members of the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. Their contribution far exceeds the size of their party, and it is important to give them the recognition that they are due.

Looking ahead, what changes will there be in the way in which Northern Ireland business is handled here? Will the Secretary of State confirm that important decisions affecting Northern Ireland will no longer be taken after short debates on unamendable orders in Statutory Instrument Committees? Surely they are a thing of the past. What is the Secretary of State’s role going to be? Does he intend to continue administering legislation from Westminster, or will he disengage his Department by creating direct links between Whitehall Departments and the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Ministers? Finally, will the Secretary of State make available significant funds to facilitate true progress towards integrated education and health services, and to provide much needed infrastructure?

It is a good time to be generous, now that Northern Ireland politicians have made the hardest investment. They have replaced heartbreak and division with a shared future, where the bombs and gunshots are the echoes of a tragic past that we must never forget, or relive.

Mr. Hain: I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I thank him for the bipartisan support that he has given to the Government over the years that he has held the Northern Ireland portfolio. I also thank his party colleagues, as their contribution has been extremely valuable.

I agree that the Alliance party politicians have made a big contribution. They continue to do so: it is significant that the party gained at the last election, even though many people had predicted that it would lose members and even be almost extinguished. Earlier, I mentioned the election of Anna Lo, which says something about the new Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my predecessors, and I paid tribute to them on Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) Bill, and in passing in my statement today. I should like to single out my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), from whom I took over. During a difficult period, he did an enormous amount of the spade work needed to bring people together for the 2004 Leeds Castle talks. Were it not for the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney and so on, he might have been the one to make the statement that I have made today. We are all in his debt for the work that he did. That work lasted longer than the three years for which he was Secretary of State: my right hon. Friend worked with Mo Mowlam right at the beginning, when the Good Friday agreement was negotiated. Those who know the detail of the period know that he did a great deal of the leg work and heavy lifting at that time.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked about Northern Ireland business in the House. Obviously, the ministerial team still has a considerable amount of important business to do. I shall have an overview of security and justice and of
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the political process, while the Northern Ireland Office will retain responsibility for the Prison Service, the probation service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and so on. Those are proper matters for us to undertake, and we will continue to engage with our ministerial opposite numbers.

In that connection, I remind the House that I am also Secretary of State for Wales. I believe that the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, especially once the devolution of policing and justice has taken place, will increasingly resemble the role of the Secretary of State for Wales—that is, being a facilitator and interlocutor for the devolved Governments, and the person who assists them in their ambitions.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about Orders in Council. Obviously, their numbers will diminish to a considerable degree, but some will still be brought forward, for example in the implementation of the devolution of justice and policing provisions that have been passed by this House already. There will be Orders in Council procedures to implement those provisions when the Assembly decides that it wants to accept that devolution. Therefore, Orders in Council will still have a role, and I hope that we will be able to carry on working with the hon. Gentleman. I hope too that he will not suffer an allergic reaction, as it were, to every Order in Council necessary to take Northern Ireland forward. However, I am sure that he will be relieved to know that there will be fewer and fewer of them.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State and many others, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that all of us on the Labour Benches are very pleased indeed that the name of Mo Mowlam has been mentioned today? She was a politician of great political courage, as she showed time and again when she was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after we came into office. Does he agree that one other person should be mentioned? John Hume, who initiated the talks between his party—the Social Democratic and Labour party—and Sinn Fein, was often denounced by some people in Northern Ireland and perhaps here, but he pioneered the process that led to what happened yesterday in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hain: I wholeheartedly agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about Mo Mowlam’s crucial and healing response and the role that she played at the beginning and about John Hume’s outstanding courage from the moment he engaged with Gerry Adams. The way in which John Hume drove the process through, and his vision and eloquence, helped to get us to where we are. On the Second Reading of the emergency legislation on 27 March, I paid tribute to all the individuals that my hon. Friend has mentioned and to John Major, the Prime Minister and many others who played a crucial role. I did not think it was right to repeat what I said, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

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