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Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP):
May I say on behalf of the remaining Ulster Unionist Members in the House that I am unanimous in welcoming what
happened yesterday? The Secretary of State is correct: we did take hits. But, having said that, I welcome enormously the events of yesterday at Stormont. I would like to place on the record thanks on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party to various and successive Secretaries of State and direct rule Ministers, who may be leaving us on account of the restoration of devolution. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for putting on the record a tribute to George Dawson MLA and for sending his condolences to the family. His death was a very sad loss to the Democratic Unionist partythe alternative Unionist partyand a huge loss to his wife and two daughters.
I need an assurance on one particular matter, please. I am talking about the fact, and it is a fact, that the new First Minister, whom I welcome warmly to his position, as I do the Deputy First MinisterI look forward with great expectation and interest to seeing how they work togetheris the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. That Church teaches that homosexuality is evil. Will the Secretary of State kindly give assurances to the many young and not so young gay and lesbian people and transsexuals in Northern Ireland that, in the forthcoming new, rosy Northern Ireland, there will be no diminution or erosion of the rights and protections that are extended to them?
Mr. Hain: On the hon. Ladys latter point, the legislation, including the somewhat controversial legislation that I and my ministerial team took through Parliament earlier this year, makes it completely impossible to exercise any discrimination against people on the grounds of sexuality, adding to the other grounds already in the statute in Northern Ireland. That answers her point.
The hon. Lady said that, representing the UUP, she was unanimous. I have to say that she is unanimously admired and held in affection by all Members of the House. I thank her for what she said about George Dawson. I remember him being at the first ever meeting of the loyal orders with any Secretary of StateI think he was helpful in facilitating thatwhich I held with them last year. He helped to achieve a situation in which greater trust was built around parading.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab):
May I add my words of condolence about George Dawson and tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, how much I have admired the work that they have put in, particularly in the last year or so, on what has now been achieved in Northern Ireland? May I also mention those members of the Conservative party, including Sir John Major and the Ministers who handed their baton to me when we took over in 1997, who worked to bring about peace in Northern Ireland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said, although it is absolutely right to pay particular tribute to Sinn Fein and the DUP for the enormous amount of work that they have put into the settlement, the Good Friday agreement was about the inclusivity of all parties in Northern Ireland, including the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist party, because they hold ministries, the Alliance party and the Progressive Unionist party? In this new devolved
Northern Ireland, they too will play an important role in making Northern Ireland a more prosperous and stable place in which to live.
Mr. Hain: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all that he has said. I want to echo and underline the points that he made about the inclusivity of the process in relation to all the parties, including the SDLP and the UUPwhich are in government with Sinn Fein and the DUPthe Alliance party, the Greens and everybody else, although people will not think I am churlish when I say I am glad that that does not include the independent Unionist party anymore. He is right to say that the Good Friday agreement included all parties, and that is very important. That spirit should be taken forward. I think that this situation will stick because the two most polarised parties have agreed. The problem that the SDLP and the UUP faced in the past was that there were people further away from the centre on both sides who in one way or another undermined what they were trying to do and were not in the tent. What is good about the current situationthis is why I believe this is the political end game in a real senseis that the two most polarised parties are included. They must remember that all parties are part of the Good Friday process, as my right hon. Friend has emphasised.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): In this momentous and splendid week for Northern Irelanda week that many of us, in the bleakest moments, thought would never actually happendoes the Secretary of State think that it is worth reflecting that patience really has been a virtue? It would have been all too easy at times to have compromised with the men of violence. The fact that that did not happen has meant that this can now be a lasting peace. He and his Ministers are to be congratulated on their patience.
Mr. Hain: I am particularly grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, given his role over the years and his interest and experience. Even though I, as the person to whom the baton fell as Secretary of State at this particular time, was increasingly optimistic that things would work over the last few monthsthe hon. Member for Aylesbury knows that I have been optimistic throughoutnevertheless many of us never believed that we would see what we have seen, in the visual pictures and in every other respect.
The right hon. Gentlemans point about patience being a virtue is right. I made a point, using other terminology, about the doggedness of trying whatever device one could use or opportunity one could find to keep going and keep the process alive, even in the bleakest momentsmy right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen knew many of those during his period as Secretary of State and before as Minister of State. There were high points and there were very low points. This process can be a bit of a model for other processes around the world. People have given the middle east attention from time to time, but there has not been the same relentless forensic attention as there has been in Northern Ireland. That was started by Conservative Governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and carried onI think everybody will agreeby the Prime Minister and his Secretaries of State and Ministers with tremendous verve, dynamism and energy. That needs to be recognised.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the achievements yesterday and on the whole process. It really is a quite incredible achievement altogether. Will he acknowledge that those people who managed to maintain a dialogue with all sections of the community, including the nationalist communities, in the 1970s and 1980s played an important part in opening the doors, and that the Hume-Adams accord was an important step towards bringing about the Good Friday agreement? Will he acknowledge that the origins of the troubles in 1968, and all the awful conflict that went on after that and all the deaths that resulted, lie partly in the exclusion of a large proportion of the population from decent employment and decent opportunities? Will he acknowledge that it is important that the Assembly recognises it has to deliver good quality public services, employment and hope to the entire population it serves to ensure that that horrible period never returns?
Mr. Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the origins of the dispute are historically complex and go back centuries. They include the relationship between the island of Ireland and Britain. However, social exclusion and fierce discrimination against the Catholic population were undoubtedly an important part of what led to the troubles, with all the terror and unacceptable violence that occurred.
I thank my hon. Friend for his continued interest in Northern Ireland and the whole island of Ireland during his time as a Member of Parliament and before that. I agree that dialogue with everyone has been a lesson. John Humes actions were very unpopular at the time of the Hume-Adams initiative, while Gerry Adams was courageous as well. However, the process triggered the start of the melting of the ice that allowed things to be picked up later on.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): As a committed UnionistI make no bones about thatI warmly welcome the developments in Ulster and the return of peace, stability and devolved government. Does the Secretary of State agree that that has happened partly because of the very brave stance taken by the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)? He has perhaps made a great sacrifice to lead, with the support of Sinn Fein, all the people in Northern Ireland back to peace, democracy and stability. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Government will always be totally even-handed when they deal with the Assembly in Northern Ireland and that they will not in any way put pressure on the Assembly in respect of any particular policy? Surely, allowing Assembly Members to sort out their own problems, as the Government are apparently willing to do, is the best way to achieve future peace, prosperity and success in Ulster.
I could not have put the hon. Gentlemans last point better myselfI thank him for it. I have never thought that exerting pressure is a very profitable exercise, especially regarding the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), and I think that the same goes for the Deputy First Minister. I intend that we will support the devolved Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can, including through a
decent financial package, but this is a matter for them. As I said to the First Minister yesterday, The power has passed to you. Good luck. We will be watching in the wings and giving support, but we will certainly treat everyone even-handedly.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) describes himself as a committed Unionist. Committed Unionists have nothing to fear from the future. They have the votes in the referendum behind them. If there is a change in the future, it will occur democratically through the will of the people, if it happens at all. I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a committed Unionist, will respect that, because that is democracy.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I warmly welcome the process, as far as it has now gone, and what looks like a period of stability. Hon. Members should pay tribute to the former Member for Upper Bann, who sacrificed his party by being the flexible Unionist in Northern Ireland and was then crushed between two dominant hard-line forces. I hope that there will be a revival of that flexible Unionism.
The Secretary of State will know that I have been engaged in the process for a number of years, both here and across in Northern Ireland. I thus have many unanswered questions about how we will go forward. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) talked about the unsolved murders. The Secretary of State will know that a member of my extended family was killed by a murder squad from the Ulster Volunteer Force in McGurks bar in 1973. The driver, Mr. Campbell, admitted his guilt and served time, but the bombers have never been named. Whatever process takes place, I hope that such unsolved crimes will be raised. Philip Garrywe called him Uncle Phillywas killed and his last remaining relative, Eilene Killin, still lives in Belfast. I hope that someday she will get the peace of knowing that the people who did that at least admitted it and felt a sense of sorrow for what they did during those terrible times.
The Secretary of State might be able to answer a question about engagement that remains unanswered. When I was last in South Armagh as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was told that the police still could not drive into South Armagh and that they had to be brought in by helicopter. Has the situation advanced and will people living in what seems to be a criminal environment in South Armagh admit of the rule of law there?
I thank my hon. Friend for the interest that he has shown in Northern Ireland over many years and for his activity. It was valuable that he and other hon. Members did that because it brought a wealth of experience and expertise to our debates, which meant that the people and parties of Northern Ireland always knew that there were Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the
Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), to whom they could turn when they wanted to put forward a point of view.
I know about the member of my hon. Friends extended family who was savagely murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force because my hon. Friend and I have been in touch about that matter. I hope that there will eventually be a solution to that case and all the others. I am struck by the fact that, as things settle down, it might be a good idea to consider whether hon. Members can develop a relationship with Members of the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend talks about south Armagh and policing. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), the Minister with responsibility for security, drove himself into Crossmaglen a few weeks ago, which would have been unthinkable for any security Minister or Secretary of State even last year. The police now do so. I am not saying that there are not dissident republicans around who, though marginalised and isolated, are still dangerous and threatening and that everything is a bed of roses, but the security situation has completely transformed to the point at which soldiers were withdrawn from Crossmaglen at the end of March. The remaining home-based Army soldiers will be withdrawn at the end of July, which will leave still stationed in Northern Ireland only a garrison that can be deployed anywhere in the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) mentioned in particular the role played by the armed forces. On this momentous day, may I invite the Secretary of State to pay particular tribute to the contribution, courage and determination of all the members of Her Majestys armed forces who gave their lives in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, which we celebrate today? We should send a message to their families who, perhaps even 30 years on, are feeling hurt and pain after their family members gave their lives for the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.
I heard what the Secretary of State said about inquiries. He knows my view: the Saville inquiry should never have been set up in the first place. To prevent the reopening of old woundsperhaps this can take place in the context of the other inquiries that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentionedwill he ensure that the Saville inquiry is wound up with the lawyers sent off to do more lucrative business, if they can find it?
Mr. Hain: The Saville inquiry is due to report [ Laughter. ] I hesitate to use the word shortly, but the inquiry has been going for quite a time and it is in its twilight period. I do not think it would be sensible to wind it up at this point.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wholeheartedly paying tribute to the armed forces and the role that they played over many difficult years. Given your interest in Northern Ireland, Mr. Speaker, I know that you would have been very excited by the joyous mood at Stormont Buildings yesterday. I was struck by the fact that several victims and victims
representatives were present, including one of the most prominent Royal Ulster Constabulary George cross widows, Wilma Carson, who was really pleased by the way things were going. One of the most striking things about what has happened is that a healing process has started, although it still has a long way to go, as I said earlier.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): In the warm spirit of bipartisanship and cross-party agreement that exists on this occasion, may I mention that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), would certainly have been present today if he were not unwell? I am sure that the whole House sends its best wishes to the hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, has had a radio receiver brought to his bedside so that he can follow our deliberations.
When the Secretary of State referred to the fair following wind that should be given to the newly established Assembly in Northern Ireland, he answered a question that caused many of us concern. It is important that infrastructure in Northern Ireland receives the financial attention it desperately needs. Will he tell the House what the mechanism will be for that fair following financial wind? Will it be a statement, part of the pre-Budget report, or, as is traditional, a report to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee? That is an extremely serious issue on which the House will have to concentrate in the months, and possibly even years, ahead.
Mr. Hain: In respect of the financial package, I agree with my hon. Friend. Let us remember that the Chancellor has already offered £18 billionan enormous amount for a place the size of Northern Irelandin infrastructure support over the coming period. That is part of a package worth more than £50 billion over the next four years. It is the only part of the United Kingdom that has some certainty about its budget for the next four years at this relatively early stage of the comprehensive spending review. The Irish Republic has committed £400 million to infrastructure, too, so there is tremendous opportunity and support for taking forward the projects to which my hon. Friend referred.
I received a message from the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to say that he was indisposed with bronchitis. He was not able to be at Stormont yesterday, although I know that he wanted to be there. He probably not only has a radio next to him, but has the BBC Parliament channel on by his bedside. He is one of the most respected parliamentarians in the House, and I pay tribute to the role of the Committee, which has given us valuable advice, and sometimes valuable criticism, over the period of its work.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid of Wales, and as a Scottish nationalist with an Irish mother, I would like to add my voice and express my relief, but overwhelmingly I would like to offer my congratulations on the developments in Northern Ireland yesterday. If ever there was an example of Churchills maxim
To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war,
we are seeing it in Northern Ireland today. We should praise the efforts made over the years by the
Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, but also by the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party and, in the Republic, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I know that my aunt in Dungarvan, County Waterford, would want me to recognise the efforts of John Major and the current Prime Minister, which indeed I do. Finally, I add a comment in my native tongue of Scottish Gaelic, which is a first cousin of Irish Gaelic, but without any of the perceived tribal, political or religious overtones: gum bi mile mile beannachd air sluagh Eirinn a Tuath.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his kind comments about the servicemen and women who have given so much for Northern Ireland and our country over the years. As a humble Guardsman, I served in Armagh in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, and we sacrificed an awful lot. On that note, before we close the door completely on the past, may I bring up the tragic situation of Captain Robert Nairac, who was my captain from 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards? He was the first man to break my nose; he was an excellent boxer. His family, quite rightly, would like to know what has happened to his body, and we would all like to put that question to rest. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what is happening in the negotiations to find out what happened to Captain Robert Nairac?
Mr. Hain: I commend the hon. Gentlemans role and that of his colleagues. The predicament experienced by the family of Captain Robert Nairac is appalling and unacceptable. Many relatives of those who have disappeared face the awful situation of not knowing what happened to loved ones or where their remains might be. We have provided the opportunity, through recent legislation, for death certificates to be issued. That is at least something, but it is not sufficient and we will continue to pursue the matter.
In the spirit of the hon. Gentlemans remarks, I talked to a former Ulster Defence Regiment sergeant who had twice suffered horrific attacks by the IRA, in which he narrowly escaped death. I was struck by the fact that despite his being injured, and despite his family having seen the events on at least one occasion, he still wanted the process to work, and he welcomed the fact that Martin McGuinness was the Deputy First Minister. He said, Look, I may have fought all these people, and they may have tried to take my life away years ago, but I want to see them in government with other parties, democratically pursuing their interests in peace and with respect for the rule of law. I thought that that change of heart by somebody who had suffered what he had suffered boded very well for the future.
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