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I strongly believe that the people of Northern Ireland support the devolution of these powers, and that they want us to get on with the work of dealing with jobs,
education and health. Those are the matters that come to me when I meet people on the streets. Seldom has anyone come up to me and said, "We need to get policing and justice sorted out," or "We need to get parading sorted out." People want the Assembly and the Executive to get on with the day-to-day, bread and butter issues, and that must be our priority over the weeks, months and years ahead.
I should like to say a final word on the issue of the sunset clause. I started off by regarding the sunset clause as a necessary evil. Both parties recognised it as a temporary expedient, but we were unable to reach a permanent agreement on it. I have moved my position, however; I now think that the clause will assist us all. Over the next year or two, it will allow us to use our experience of having the devolved functions to determine whether any changes would be beneficial or necessary. We should not, however, wait until the period of time has passed before we sit down and try to resolve any such matters. As soon as the new Assembly is elected in 2011, it must straight away get down to working out its processes for continuing the role of policing and justice. We should not be nervous about the fact that our experience over those years will enable us to determine whether the same system should be continued, whether it should be tweaked, or whether more significant changes should be made. I am not afraid of looking at that issue in 2011-12, and I believe that the sunset clause will benefit the Assembly.
I think that, before I arrived in the Chamber, the hon. Member for Foyle spoke of not making the perfect the enemy of the good. That is exactly where we stand today. Regrettably, some people believe that we should wait until we have all our ducks in a row and everything is perfect before we move forward. We should never make progress in Northern Ireland if we did that, however, because nothing is ever perfect in politics.
Mark Durkan: The problem with the sunset clause is not simply that it requires political agreement, or that it imposes an obligation on the parties to sort out their positions. The nature of the clause is that, in the absence of an agreement, the Department will be dissolved. It is the implications of that happening that we need to consider, because that is what the House has legislated for. If we have such confidence in the future, why do we need a sunset clause that would require the Department to be dissolved? Do the parties really need that in order to concentrate their minds in the positive way that the right hon. Gentleman has been suggesting?
Mr. Robinson: Every journey is taken a step at a time. It is a fact that no agreement could be reached on a final and completed version of these arrangements. We have therefore taken the first step, and we have done so with confidence and faith that we will be able to resolve these issues. I happen to believe that the arrangements that we have will probably be sufficient in 2012, but the determination that has been shown over the past few years to resolve our difficulties will be sufficient to overcome any problem that we might face at that time.
I was present in April 1998 during the final days that led up to what became known as the Belfast agreement, and I know that the hon. Member for Foyle and others were involved in reaching compromises
at the last minute. Those compromises were not the finished product; they were work in progress, and they established arrangements to take forward pieces of work that were not in the final agreement. The hon. Gentleman should therefore be no stranger to the idea that, in a peace process, we do not necessarily reach the final destination at every point. We can, however, establish a firm foothold, in order to go on and build other things in the future.
Mark Durkan: I should like to refer to what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) has just said. Yes, of course there were compromises in the Good Friday agreement, as there have been on other occasions. However, none of the compromises that we were party to involved contemplating, or legislating for, the dissolution and collapse of any arrangements. We did not sell confidence on the basis that we had a device for allowing the arrangements to collapse and disappear before our eyes if we did not like what happened around the corner. Will the right hon. Member for Belfast, East tell us whether, in the 2011 Assembly election, his party will claim to have a mandate to hold out for a continued veto on Sinn Fein occupying the role of Minister of Justice? Or will the right hon. Gentleman say, "We are relaxed and agnostic about who should be the Minister of Justice, and we will therefore be able to reach agreement with Sinn Fein"? Because that is what he is telling us.
Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman indicates that the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly during the period of the Good Friday agreement was not legislated for, but it did collapse-it collapsed four times, even though that was not legislated for. That is hardly a good example to draw to our attention, as they were capable of collapsing the Assembly without legislation. The one thing that can be said about the present Administration is that even though there have been difficult times, the Assembly has not once collapsed. We have continued to operate, to take our decisions, to move forward and to reach agreements. I do not doubt that there will be challenges for us ahead, but I also do not doubt that we are capable of overcoming them.
I strongly support the measures before the House. I want to thank the Secretary of State and his team for their assistance during the talks process, and indeed to thank the Prime Minister for the time that he spent in Northern Ireland. I know that there might have been a bit of impatience on their part that it took a little longer than they had expected. I do not apologise for that at all, as I believe that the agreement we now have is stronger, because we took the additional time to get it right. More than that, unlike previous agreements-whether it be the Belfast agreement, the St. Andrews agreement or many others such as the Weston Park agreement and so forth-this one is different. This one was agreed between parties in Northern Ireland. This was made in Ulster, and I believe that it will be all the stronger for that, all the more likely to stick and make it all the more likely that people will go out and stand by it. I believe that it will be a significant step towards peace, stability and prosperity for Northern Ireland.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): During the nearly five years in which I have done this Front-Bench job, I have dealt with many statutory instruments. They have usually been dealt with upstairs in Committee; some have been difficult and some have been very easy. This one is, in a sense, the most important, but it is also quite easy in that we have unanimous agreement in the House that these orders should go through. They have been welcomed on all sides and I add my welcome this evening. It has been a rocky road and the last few weeks seemed particularly difficult. In spite of those difficulties, I certainly never lost hope or my faith that we would get to this position. I am very pleased thatwe have.
Right hon. and hon. Members have made some important and interesting contributions. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) certainly welcomed the orders, but raised an important issue about the sunset clause. It is a matter that we discussed when the original legislation went through last year. I wondered what would happen if we reached 1 May 2012 and an agreement had not been reached. My hope is that having reached agreement on this issue-it has been a very difficult issue and has taken longer than all the other devolution issues to resolve-the Assembly can agree again in order to renew the Department or pass legislation to set up an alternative Department that does essentially the same job. I hope that the Assembly can also start to agree on many of the issues that the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) rightly said people are concerned about each and every day of their lives. People do not wake up necessarily wondering about parading or about devolution, but they do wake up worrying about jobs, their families, transport and all the other issues that people in Great Britain worry about. I hope that the example now set-with two parties, although it should have been four, coming together to agree on a difficult issue-will be replicated in the months and years ahead.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised the issue of the Saville inquiry, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). We are not here to discuss that matter tonight, but I repeat my hon. Friend's words: in order to do justice to the long and expensive time taken in compiling the report, we really need the calm of the post-election period, not the pre-election period. I hope that the Secretary of State will take that plea into account.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), in a customarily passionate and forceful speech, rightly condemned paramilitary activity. It has been unfortunate that we have seen an increase in such activity. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire said, the bomb squad has been called out and we hear reports of shootings and what can be described only as paramilitary activity virtually every week. It must be regretted on both sides. I hope that devolving police and justice powers today-and doing so unanimously, in this House, at least-sends out a message that we are not going to put up with it and that we are going to tackle these issues through politics and dialogue. Even if there are disagreements, the important consideration is how we disagree. I hope that today will send out a message to those trying to wreck the process. As has been said, they do not have support in the
communities; they have no support either in Northern Ireland or in the south. I hope that message gets through loud and clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) paid many tributes to various people, including the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, without whose fortitude we could not have reached this stage-with respect to the orders or devolution in general. The problem with naming people for tribute is that not everybody can be mentioned. I would like to add the names of Margaret Thatcher, David Trimble, John Hume and a number of unnamed and perhaps anonymous officials who have worked very hard behind the scenes to bring about devolution in Northern Ireland. I would also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire, who has been an influential and assiduous Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. It has been my pleasure to work with someone who I consider-and I know the whole House considers-to be an outstanding parliamentarian. I wish him well for the future.
The right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has, of course, enjoyed an extremely long career. It was wonderful to hear him speaking with such optimism about Northern Ireland moving in the right direction. He rightly said that we cannot forget the struggles and the pain that so many people went through, but it is indeed good that things are moving in the right direction. I also wish him well for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) reminded us in a characteristic speech of the long history of Northern Ireland. History is particularly important when it comes to Northern Ireland. As a Lancastrian who has many friends from Yorkshire, I know that history still plays an important role in relations between people. My hon. Friend reminded us how important history is to the present in Northern Ireland, although we want to move on from some parts of it. I certainly hope that today is part of that moving-on process.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East rightly says that people are in favour of devolution, and the Conservative party is in favour of devolution generally as well as in favour of the devolution of policing and justice. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire said, the financial package is important, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition offered immediate support to it when the matter was raised. It is a post-dated cheque; it is going to have to be written after the general election. Who knows, it may well be a member of my own party who has to write it. The package was readily agreed to. We recognised both the importance of the package and the importance of the issue that it was there to support, the devolution of policing and justice.
We have heard many speeches, today and in the past, about how successful we have been and what a long way we have travelled in Northern Ireland. I agree, although we must continue to work at peace and reconciliation and making progress; we cannot simply accept that things will always be like this. We must go on trying to normalise politics and life in Northern Ireland, and we must recognise the challenges presented by the ongoing paramilitary activity, by Saville and, perhaps, by 2012. There remains the question of who would be responsible for the support of civil powers if-very undesirably-that became necessary. Overall, however, we have made a
huge amount of progress. I wish the Assembly Members well for the days ahead, which, while they may prove challenging, have the potential to be very rewarding.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Paul Goggins): This has been an excellent debate-which is highly appropriate, given that this is the last occasion on which we will debate Northern Ireland policing and criminal justice on the Floor of the House.
I am delighted that we were joined today by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). She may remember that back in 2003, when I was a Home Office Minister, she and I served together on a Committee that was considering a piece of criminal justice legislation. She kept asking me, "Why cannot this provision be extended to Northern Ireland?", and I kept replying "That is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers." Of course, when I became a Northern Ireland Minister, that excuse was no longer possible-and no Minister in this Parliament can use it now, because such matters are to be devolved to a local Justice Minister and to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The three orders that we have considered represent a milestone in the long journey from conflict to peace, from a divided society to a shared future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly paid tribute to those who deserve it most-Northern Ireland's own politicians-for the leadership that they have shown, and the increasing political maturity that they demonstrate day by day. Now, even when there is disagreement, they can work through it together.
No one exemplifies that better than my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who always makes clear his disagreements-when he has them-about such issues as the appointment of the Minister and the interface with national security, but none the less shows his clear and unequivocal support for the progress that we are making. He rightly said that we should not make perfection an obstacle to progress, and I welcome his support for the progress that we are making.
There are many prizes for devolution. First, there is the not inconsiderable prize mentioned by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson): the £800 million of extra resources, which, although hard won, is much needed and deserved. We are confident that it will be invested wisely. Secondly, there is the welcome prospect of an Executive working more effectively for the people whom they are there to serve, fully joined up across Government. Thirdly, there is the restoration of confidence in the political institutions of Northern Ireland after years of fracture and undermining by dissident elements.
Fourthly and crucially, there is the prospect of isolating the dissident element in Northern Ireland-the element that still seeks to attack and murder police officers and still wants to take Northern Ireland backwards, although the vast majority of people there want to move forward. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) reminded us of events that have happened even in recent days, but there is a clear determination in all political parties and all sections of the community, and there is no going back. The completion of devolution is capable of isolating the small number of individuals who persist in such actions.
The hon. Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) rightly condemned those dissident elements and their activities. I join the hon. Member for North Shropshire in sending good wishes to Peadar Heffron as he recovers from his dreadful injuries inflicted by dissident attackers. His personal strength and the determination of his family stand in marked contrast to the cowardly conduct of those who attacked him.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the role of the Secretary of State in the future, beyond the devolution of policing and justice powers. The Secretary of State will remain the primary point of contact between the devolved Administration and central Government, and will be responsible for fostering good relations between the devolved institutions and central Government. However, he will have no role in determining the arrangements for the Department of Justice or the appointment of a Minister beyond 2012. That is a matter for the local parties and the Assembly to consider.
The Secretary of State has presented these orders with absolute confidence that the Assembly will be capable of determining the issues for themselves-the right hon. Member for Belfast, East underlined that-and that it will be possible in the coming months to learn lessons that can be deployed in decisions made after 2012. As I have said, these are matters for the Assembly, but we have every confidence that it will resolve them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle predicted that, once again, he and I would disagree about certain issues. He talked of the interface between issues that will remain the responsibility of central Government and those that will be devolved. I do not deny for a minute that that interface needs to be dealt with extremely carefully, but I believe that it can be managed. Let me return my hon. Friend to the scene from the Clouseau film that he mentioned. The importance of the protocols is that we know precisely whose dog we are talking about, and what responsibility that particular dog has.
Mark Durkan: We published a number of concordats and protocols relating to these measures, including one on the independence of the judiciary and another on the independence of the Public Prosecution Service. Let me remind the Minister of a statement made on 13 December 2006 by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), about the question of the issue of certificates for no-jury trials by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The right hon. Gentleman said:
"if the DPP judges that there is a risk to the safe administration of justice because of information that he has received, the source of which is a matter for national security in terms of intelligence and so on, he is entitled to go to the judge and say, 'This is a certificate for a juryless trial.' I am not trying to suggest anything else, anything more or anything less than that."-[ Official Report, 13 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 903.]
Matters that are surely perfectly plain-the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the DPP-are clearly qualified, in that strings can be pulled when there are national security and intelligence considerations.
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