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In the past, we have succeeded through all parties in the House seeking peace. The importance of this agreement is that it is between the parties in Northern Ireland, and
the wider the agreement, the better it will be for the future. I have had talks with the DUP and Sinn Fein, but I have also had talks with the SDLP, the UUP, and, of course, the Progressive Unionist party. All have a big part to play in the future of Northern Ireland, and I hope they will be able to vote yes in the cross-community vote on 9 March, and that they will tell us soon that that is what they wish to do.
Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, and all who took part in the exceptionally protracted negotiations. Although there has been criticism of the length of time that those negotiations took, I do not think that the people who took part in them should be embarrassed. It is in the nature of things that the most difficult issues are left until the last bit of any negotiations, and these negotiations involved dealing with a couple of issues that no one had managed to address before. I think that the people involved deserve to be congratulated, and I think that the rest of us will wish them well in difficult circumstances.
People in Northern Ireland still think of old, unhappy, far-off things, of battles long ago, and even of battles more recently. Everyone in the country must wish those who took part in the negotiations well, and wish the people of Northern Ireland well as a result of the product of those negotiations.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is well respected in the House, and has taken an interest in these issues throughout the time during which I have known him. When he says that this is the time to move forward and that this is the time not only to reach the agreement but to implement it as quickly as possible, I think most Members will agree that the right thing to do is to bring people together, to move forward and put the past behind us, but to ensure that the devolution of policing and justice is intact so that it is in place in only a few weeks' time.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I strongly endorse what the Prime Minister said about the vital importance of a bipartisan approach in the House throughout the peace process. I also join him in hoping that both the SDLP and the UUP will be able to sign up fully to the agreement. May I gently put to him, however, that those two parties felt somewhat marginalised because they were not as involved in the negotiations as many of us thought that they should be? I hope that lessons can be learned both by the Government and by the First and Deputy First Ministers.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support for the agreement, and also for the support that has come from both the UUP and Sinn Fein. Let me say to him, however, that we held a number of plenary sessions in Hillsborough castle, and invited all the parties to them. I tried to meet all the party leaders individually, not just the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but all the representatives of all the parties. I met representatives of the UUP and the SDLP on a number of occasions to go through the issues that were at stake, and the plenary sessions were an important part of the process.
Of course I understand that the UUP and the SDLP will want to look in detail at what the agreement entails, but I think that the UUP's main concern-which was about the working of the Executive-will be best addressed by a working party of the Executive, chaired by the leader of the UUP alongside the leader of the SDLP. I hope that, having made their offer, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will receive a positive response from the leadership of the UUP in particular. We received a positive response from the SDLP today, and I hope that a positive response from the UUP will come soon. I believe that the sooner we see Northern Ireland politics resolved to move ahead with this issue, and the sooner the community sees that the parties are able to reach an agreement, the better it will be for the future of Northern Ireland.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is a long road that we have taken since the Anglo-Irish agreement of 1985-from violence to peace, as the Prime Minister has said-but does not statesmanship bring peace, does not patience bring peace, and does not peace bring prosperity, as anyone who has visited Northern Ireland will know? The Prime Minister has talked of jobs, stability, growth and inward investment. Can we not build on that statesmanship and that patience to enhance the economy of Northern Ireland and bring prosperity to all?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is always listened to with care in the House. I think he will acknowledge the huge amount of work done by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State-and, previously, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland-in pushing forward Northern Ireland's economic future.
We know that Northern Ireland is looked to by the rest of the world because of what has been achieved. The statesmanship of those people who came together to reach an agreement is applauded in every part of the world. One of the lessons that Northern Ireland has sent to the world is that if tensions can be reduced and conflict removed, prosperity can result. Northern Ireland has had more jobs and more investment as a result of the decisions that its politicians have made.
Hillary Clinton has offered to meet the parties from Northern Ireland, and she will want to help run and organise an investment conference that will bring more jobs to Northern Ireland. I believe that companies will now look at Northern Ireland and know that, once this agreement is voted through the Northern Ireland Assembly, the future of Northern Ireland will be far more stable and therefore investment will be far more beneficial to them and to Northern Ireland. So this agreement not only brings to an end a long period of conflict about the institutional future of Northern Ireland, but it means that there is the possibility-indeed, the probability-of more jobs coming to Northern Ireland. The economic future of Northern Ireland looks more secure this week than it did last week.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP):
The whole House welcomes the news on decommissioning by the paramilitary groups mentioned by the Prime Minister. As we are nearing the end of that process, can he say
when and if an inventory of the various decommissioned arsenals will now be published at its conclusion, as was originally agreed? The agreement is in keeping with the manifesto pledges of my party. There are a number of elements to it, including on better delivery by the Executive and on parades, and we expect everybody to act in good faith. We know that the Government are the guarantor of delivery, so will he accept that if there is bad faith-we sincerely hope there is not in relation to delivery-there are means and devices open to us to ensure that there is delivery on the issues of parades and better functioning of the Executive. We cannot have policing and justice on the one hand without delivery of the other elements on the other, and they cannot be sustained one without the other. Those means must be open to us as a party to deliver, just as Sinn Fein has threatened in the past. Along with this, however, we are also certain that people in Northern Ireland want to move ahead. They do not want to go back. They want to build a better future, and we are all absolutely committed to making that happen.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has expressed his hopes for the way forward for Northern Ireland. It is a way ahead in which there is peace and stability, as well as trust. He is absolutely right that we and the Irish Government are guarantors of this agreement and wish to see it work, and, as he said, that means there must be delivery on all the issues-delivery on issues that are difficult for some parties, but delivery on them as they have promised in this agreement. I repeat to him that the working party that has been set up will look at all the issues that are outstanding from the St. Andrews agreement, and it will be able to report on all these issues so we can see what progress has been made and what progress can, if necessary, be made in the future.
The hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right to record our thanks to the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. When we consider that it has now overseen decommissioning by the UDA, the UVF, PIRA, the INLA and now the Official IRA, we can see that it is a central means by which we have moved from violence to peace. I not only want to thank the international commission, but to confirm that it will conduct a series of reports, and there will be a report in the end on armaments. That will be the concluding work of the commission.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): May I join others in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the success in what must have been an incredibly gruelling process of negotiations? May I also welcome the steps in further decommissioning that have been undertaken by bodies in Northern Ireland? Although I recognise that this devolution process will send a very powerful signal to the remaining violent dissidents in Northern Ireland, what assessment has he made in practical terms of the new arrangements in dealing with those who might still wish to pursue the course of violence?
The Prime Minister:
We will never be complacent. We will continue to monitor and pursue those dissident groups that hold to a policy of violence in Northern Ireland. We know that they are a real threat, which is
why we have stepped up the resources available to the security services and, as part of the financial agreement, we have made sure that the Executive ministry responsible for justice and policing is properly resourced. So we will do everything we can to take on this terrorist threat. It is important to recognise, however, that in one day the INLA, the Official IRA and the last loyalist organisation, the South-East Antrim UDA, have completed their decommissioning, and that is a move from violence to peace that those in all parts of the House will want to commend. So I remain optimistic that those people who support the political process-who are strengthened by the agreement that has been made in the past few days-will always defeat those people who wish violence to replace politics in Northern Ireland.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): As chairman of the all-party group on Northern Ireland, may I also commend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for his support for the process of the devolution of policing and justice? I am sure that the Prime Minister agrees with me that continuity of effort and engagement in the process by all political parties will be essential in the highly charged timetable and atmosphere before a general election. Can he confirm that all-party briefings will continue should this Parliament be dissolved during what will be a crucial time for the people of Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman wants me to comment on something on which I shall not comment. The one issue I shall comment on is the all-party briefings that have been given, particularly by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to his opposite numbers, which will continue. We will keep people in touch with developments. The outstanding issue that we really must address is our wish to build all-party support in Northern Ireland for this agreement; it is important to recognise that it was an agreement of two parties-it is not an agreement between the Governments-and it will work only, as the First Minister said, if we can secure wider support before the cross-community vote that will take place in Northern Ireland on 9 March. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can use his good offices to persuade any of the parties still looking at this issue and wondering about the right way for them to address the future that it is worth their being unequivocal in their support for moving this process forward and using the working party process to deal with the issues that they have raised.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
May I add my congratulations to the Prime Minister and to all the individuals and parties who took part in this very important agreement on justice and policing? May I speak on behalf of some of the people who perhaps were not there except in spirit and who cannot move forward quite as easily as the parties would seem to be able to do? Such people include those whose relatives and family-including my own-were killed in the McGurk's bar bombing. The people who did it are known to the person who was found guilty of being part of the group, but their names have never been given. Many families wonder where their loved ones are buried but that has never been revealed. Does the Prime Minister assess this move as bringing forward the possibility
that these things will be laid to rest and that people in the innocent community of Northern Ireland will genuinely be able to move forward?
The Prime Minister: There is a need to deal with the issues that arise from the past-of course, the Eames commission has looked at this-but we also know that we must move forward. I appreciate that feelings are still very raw in many communities as a result of what has happened over these past decades, but I hope that having dealt with some of the issues of reconciliation as we have done through the commission that sat to consider this matter, we can now also agree that we must move forward to build that better future.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): When responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Prime Minister explained that issues outside the formal text of the agreement will be dealt with by a special working party, but I did not hear him tell the House what these issues are. Will he take this opportunity to do so?
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Having been involved in Northern Ireland matters for many years, may I express my relief and my congratulations to all those concerned on an achievement of which all parties, this Government, this Prime Minister and his predecessor, Tony Blair, can be truly proud? Could this case study in conflict resolution at home offer lessons for negotiated solutions to apparently intractable conflicts abroad?
The Prime Minister:
I think the important thing is for us to move to 9 March and then to 12 April and show that the process that has been engaged in so determinedly by the political parties in Northern Ireland has definitively worked. We still have to get some people on board to make that happen. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that all around the world people admire what has been achieved in Northern Ireland; it has been the subject of not only Nobel peace prizes, but much examination by people who are in conflict zones. I think that one of the lessons is that if the tension and the conflict can be reduced, people can be shown the benefits of peace and therefore the benefits of not moving back to a position where conflict is endemic in their society. I think that Northern Ireland can show not only the courage of politicians who have reached difficult decisions to get to peace but the benefits that have come from that peace
process. Belfast and much of Northern Ireland have been transformed economically as a result of the decisions that have been made and people's willingness to invest in Northern Ireland for that better future.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The Prime Minister, in his statement, emphasised the importance of American investment for the prosperity of Northern Ireland. Is there also an important role for investment flows within the United Kingdom? One way to do that might be to try to get higher interest in Northern Ireland among the English media. What can the Government and the Northern Ireland Government do to encourage that?
The Prime Minister: The interest in Northern Ireland will cease to be based on long-standing conflicts and on the issues that are not yet resolved after the agreements that we have seen reached there. It will be based on how Northern Ireland is moving forward and on the talent, genius and potential of the Northern Ireland people, their ability to innovate, their strong universities, the education system, which is improving, and the innovative work of many businesses, some of which receive inward investment but some of which are generated by Northern Ireland talent on its own. The focus in Northern Ireland in future will be on the economic choices and social improvements that are made in that country. When people look at Northern Ireland today, they see a Northern Ireland that is different from a few years ago. In a few years' time, if the whole focus of the Assembly is on jobs, health, welfare, the environment, tourism and all those issues, that will be how people will wish to look at Northern Ireland-it is a beautiful country with great people, who have come together and confronted and surmounted difficult times.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I congratulate the Prime Minister and the First Minister on their personal work at Hillsborough. How will the Prime Minister ensure the total independence of the Chief Constable in order to retain community support?
The Prime Minister: The Chief Constable is operationally independent and reports to the Policing Board. That is how we secure the independence of the Chief Constable. I must say that, from my discussions in Northern Ireland, I think that people are satisfied that the Chief Constable has those powers, assumes those responsibilities and is able to act with operational independence. I believe that he and his predecessor are respected for the way in which they are independent of the political process.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is seeking to visit my constituency and he has not informed me. He sought the use of a public building, my excellent SEEVIC college, for political campaigning. Might a word from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, help him to act more appropriately? Do I smell further Tory panic?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members in this House are aware of the courtesies when visiting other Members' constituencies. The hon. Gentleman's comments are on the record and will no doubt have been noted.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill:
1.-(1) Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting in accordance with the following provisions of this paragraph.
(2) Proceedings on Second Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order or at 8 pm (whichever is the earlier).
(3) Proceedings in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 10 pm.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
2. When the Bill has been read a second time-
(a) it shall (Notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order)) stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
3.-(1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)-
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
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