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Her Majesty visited Middlesbrough in 1992, when she and the Duke were touring the British isles for the last time on the royal yacht Britannia—former Prime Minister Tony Blair came to regret the decision to abandon the yacht. The yacht was docked in Hartlepool, but Her Majesty visited my Middlesbrough constituency, where she opened a children’s playground at Pallister park. The Queen clearly has greater knowledge of our parliamentary system than some Members, because she looked at me and said, “The Whips have let you off today, have they?”

One of my constituents asked me if I had been invited to a dinner on the royal yacht that evening. I somewhat shyly and diffidently said that my wife and I had, indeed, been invited. My constituent said, “I sent her a cruet set for her 40th anniversary. Will you ask her if she received it, and if she uses it?” It is always wise to seek to do a constituent’s bidding, of course, but I must admit that my courage failed me on that occasion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) described various mistakes made in the Queen’s presence. I have often said to people that one thing we must never do is address the Queen; we must wait for her to address us. On one occasion, commanded again to Buckingham palace, I stood in line to be introduced. When my turn came, I blurted out: “Your Majesty, I am your Second Church Estates Commissioner.” She replied, “Oh, really.” It took me some time to get over that. Later on, however, she came up to me and asked what the General Synod had been discussing last weekend—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) will have taken note of that—which made me feel a lot better.

I was Her Majesty’s Second Church Estates Commissioner for 13 years, and I saw very clearly her dedication and devotion to her duties to state and to Church—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn also mentioned that. I remember her opening the General Synod at Westminster abbey. She is, of course, Supreme Governor of the Church of England through her coronation oath, which dates back to the time of Henry VIII. I saw how she looked at the people around her and took in the atmosphere. It was clear that she enjoyed the event; she was smiling in enjoyment and pleasure at her role as Supreme Governor—in marked contrast to what happened at the opening of the millennium dome, to which the Prime Minister referred.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) mentioned the Queen’s interest in other faiths. When she visited Lambeth palace on 15 February, she talked of nine families of faith. She referred to the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life and its duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.

I have referred to various visits to Buckingham palace, and I would not wish to omit the final visit I made to see Her Majesty there with other Members of Parliament. We do get invited to Buckingham palace from time to time. On this occasion I was with a group of MPs that included the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), who I am sure would not miss this occasion today, when Her Majesty came to talk to us. Three years later, it was our time again, and the hon. Member for Epping Forest— now a friend—said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Her Majesty came along and spoke to us again?” I spoke to the

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equerry and he managed to get Her Majesty to come and speak to us, and the hon. Lady said, “Your Majesty, we were together three years ago and you spoke to us then.” Her Majesty uttered the immortal words, “And we are all still here,” and so, 60 years on from her coronation, are Her Majesty and the Duke. It has been a mighty achievement for a monarch to reign for 60 years and that is why we pay tribute to Her Majesty and the Duke. We wish her well in her reign and we look back in satisfaction and gratitude at the service she has rendered to this country.

1.51 pm

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I am very happy to verify the story of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell). In supporting the Humble Address may I say that those of us who strive to show that there should be no barriers to a woman being able to achieve all that a man can achieve have in Her Majesty a shining example and a wonderful inspiration?

1.51 pm

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab): May I add my support to the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition following recent devastating events in Afghanistan? We must never forget that those who serve are the lions of our country. We owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude and I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families of those who have tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan.

It is an honour to speak in today’s Humble Address to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. As Her Majesty prepares to begin the next chapter in her remarkable history, it is right that we remind ourselves of the changes to the country and the world that have accompanied her most distinguished reign on the British throne. While the world has changed at a rapid rate, the Queen has struck the balance perfectly between stability and tradition versus change and modernisation. She reigns steadfast in her belief in duty, commitment and loyalty, steadfast in her belief in peace and prosperity both at home and overseas, and steadfast as a mother and grandmother who works tirelessly for her nation and her family. The Queen has served her country dutifully and with a quiet dignity and grace. I know that the Queen’s support for our armed forces really does matter to them and their families, especially on days such as today. I believe that the Queen’s service is best defined by one word—duty.

Her Majesty is undoubtedly formidable, but we know that she also has a sense of humour. I recall a story about a mayoress from a town that shall remain nameless, although I will say that it was not Barnsley, who showed the Queen around a refurbished town hall. During the tour, the Queen and mayoress arrived at an open cabinet containing a rather formal robe, which prompted the Queen to ask, “What is that robe for?” The mayoress replied, “This is our ceremonial robe, but we only use it for very special occasions.” A wry smile from the Queen said all that needed to be said.

In complex and challenging times for Britain and the world, the Queen has remained a reassuring constant. Her Majesty has worked tirelessly to support all her

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Prime Ministers and to build strong working relationships with countless foreign Heads of State and leaders of the Commonwealth countries. The Queen is well placed to head a country that has culture, the arts, heritage, design and technology at its core. Around the world, portraits of the Queen have become synonymous with the traditions of the British monarchy. Rolf Harris and Lucien Freud, to name just two, have had the opportunity to paint Her Majesty. Oh to have been a fly on the wall during one of Freud’s sittings with Her Majesty!

As we move into 2012, Her Majesty will inspire her nation again. In July, she will become the third British monarch officially to open the London Olympic games, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, Edward VII, in 1908 and her father, George VI, in 1948. Before that, the nation will gather to celebrate the diamond jubilee. In South Yorkshire, we will celebrate with festivals and street parties. Over the next 12 months, the eyes of the world will be on the Queen to inspire her people. I am confident, as, I am sure, are the whole House and the whole country, that she will, as ever, with a grace and devotion to duty that is admired and respected the world over, once more make this country very proud.

1.56 pm

Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): It is a great privilege to have this opportunity, on behalf of the Witham constituency, to support the Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen.

In October 2010, my constituency was honoured by the first visit of Her Majesty to that part of Essex for a generation. She came to visit Wilkin and Sons in Tiptree, which has a royal warrant. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the company makes the finest jams and preserves in the world. In the weeks leading up to the visit, the air of excitement and anticipation was immense. That seems unimaginable in today’s era of short-term celebrity culture, but business men, schoolchildren and pensioners were all enthused and excited about her presence in Tiptree. The visit brought everyone together as nothing else could and blew us all away on the day. It is a testament to her remarkable character that everyone who met her felt inspired and delighted that the Queen had engaged in conversation with them. Despite the fact that that visit was only one of the hundreds she makes each year, everyone felt special to have spent time with Her Majesty.

Just as Tiptree celebrated Her Majesty’s visit, people across my constituency are now embracing the diamond jubilee celebrations. Witham town council has organised a competition for local schoolchildren to design a logo to mark this momentous occasion. With so many events, street parties and activities taking place in her honour, we can see that Her Majesty is perhaps the only living person who can command this level of respect and loyalty and bring our great nation together.

It is absolutely fitting, with the celebrations taking place across the country and the Commonwealth, that the House should pay its own tribute to the 60 years of selfless service that Her Majesty has given to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She has relentlessly promoted Britain throughout the world, and there is

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barely a corner of the earth that she has not reached. Her Majesty has supported numerous charities and great causes throughout our country. She has acted as a confidante to a dozen Prime Ministers throughout her reign and done tremendous work. Her strong work ethic is inspiring, and her eternal optimism for this country is a great source of comfort in an era of change. As her visit to my constituency demonstrated, our sovereign lady is a true believer in the people and businesses that make our country the greatest in the world. Her Majesty is the embodiment of the British spirit, and long may her reign continue.

1.58 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): My reason for speaking is that I have lived under four monarchs, and I would like to present a view that will represent a diversity of opinion in the country, which probably has not been expressed so far in the debate. A Head of State wearing a green dress and bowing her head to Croke Park was a very powerful symbol of reconciliation, which I believe will have a profound effect on healing the wounds that have disfigured life in the island of Ireland for generations.

The Queen is still working, doing a full-time job, having been born in 1926. What a splendid example to the nation and to the House, which has just two hon. Members who are octogenarians. Their distinguished contributions should ensure that we encourage greater diversity in the House. It is one area where we fail. Great progress has been made; there is a larger proportion of women Members and more Members from the minorities, although not yet enough, but we fail dismally on the number of people who can remember what it was like before there was a health service, for instance. We should look with gratitude to the Queen for providing a magnificent example.

My third positive point is from the writings of Robert Rhodes James, a former Member for Cambridge and a respected historian. He raised a fascinating point about the feelings in the Conservative party when Mrs Thatcher’s premiership was coming to an end. He wrote of concern in Conservative circles that Mrs Thatcher might decide to call a general election, acting in her own interests rather than those of the nation, and that the Conservative party, the House and the Cabinet would not be able to stop her. The only person who could have stopped her was the Head of State, and I believe all of us agree that the Queen’s strength of character and the fact that she had served many other Prime Ministers would give us full confidence that she was the best person in that situation or any situation when a Prime Minister decided to act in his or her interests rather than the interests of the country.

Another tradition is represented in this country, certainly in my constituency when, in 1839, a group of Chartists demonstrated and their purpose was not entirely benign towards Queen Victoria. Twenty of them were shot. It is right that we look at the relationship between the sovereign and ourselves in a modern Parliament. One welcomes the fact that a new coat of arms will be added to the many already displayed in the House, but sadly there is virtually no pictorial depiction of the struggles for democracy by the Chartists, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the suffragettes and others who shaped the rich and strong democracy we have today. We should put that right.

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The speeches that have been made so far have been sincere and heartfelt, and virtually all were true, but if someone wants to be critical, they are not allowed to be. If a monarch, or just a relative of the monarch, strayed from the paths of sainthood and perfection, it would be impossible for a Member of the House to be critical of that person. That is not sensible. If that circumstance should arise, we should be allowed to talk freely if words of criticism are necessary.

It is right, too, that the quarter of the population who describe themselves as republican should have their views heard. We know that figure is reflected in the membership of the House. When there was a debate some years ago about whether there should be an alternative Oath, more than 100 Members voted for it. To avoid the verbal rigmarole that republicans have to go through when taking the Oath, we should have an alternative.

Finally, I am sure that even with the history of my city, where republicanism has existed for at least 200 years, all the people I represent, whether they see themselves as subjects or citizens, royalists or republicans, will wish the Queen well on this occasion.

2.4 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): On behalf of my constituents of Romford and Hornchurch, I rise in support of the Prime Minister in the Humble Address to the Queen, and add my congratulations and heartfelt thanks to her Majesty for her service and dedication to our nation in this, the 60th year of her reign as our Head of State, sovereign and defender of the faith.

The diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen will be a wonderful celebration for all the people of these islands, and a truly historic occasion for British people throughout the world. Let us remember that although Her Majesty is dear to all of us in this country, she is also loved by millions across the globe. The Queen reigns over not only the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but 15 other realms, five Crown dependencies and 16 overseas territories, and 11 external territories of which Australia and New Zealand are sovereign; in total, 135 million people throughout 48 realms and territories, representing more than 18.8 million square miles of the world remain under the Crown.

From the Arctic north of Canada to the British Antarctic Territory at the most southerly end of the planet, from Norfolk island on the eastern side of the Pacific to the Pitcairn islands on the western side, from the Caribbean to the Indian ocean, and from the Falkland Islands of the south Atlantic to the Rock of Gibraltar, people across the world will be celebrating this joyful occasion. Today, in this mother of Parliaments, let us remember all Her Majesty’s loyal subjects from every corner of the globe, and together celebrate our shared heritage, represented so magnificently by Queen Elizabeth II.

2.7 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I add our congratulations to the Queen and wish her well on the tremendous occasion of her 60th jubilee.

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This is my second speech on an Humble Address; the other was six years ago on the occasion of the Queen’s 80th birthday. Of the six Members who contributed that day, only two have done so again today: the Prime Minister did so from a different position, but I speak from the same place and am happy to provide continuity for the Humble Address.

Her Majesty has had a long and impressive reign. I noted from a recent TV documentary that 60 years ago she pledged to serve the “imperial family”. Time has moved on, and so has the Queen, although not her inner gracious qualities and decorum. The imperial family has changed into a Commonwealth, as the Prime Minister noted earlier, and Her Majesty is now Queen of 16 independent states, a number that may be added to in coming years—a veritable growing family.

In the year of Her Majesty’s 80th birthday, six years ago, she cruised around the Hebrides—my constituency, Na h-Eileanan an Iar—perhaps her favourite destination in all her realms. Before she becomes our longest reigning monarch—God willing—on 9 September 2015, I hope that she may again have the opportunity to cruise around the Hebrides, as this year may be a bit busy for her.

In my childhood it was always a high point when Her Majesty visited the islands south of Barra, and travelled there in peace, and the three masts of the royal yacht Britannia were visible behind the hills when it was anchored in Vatersay bay.

Finally, I say in Gaelic—the old but also the modern language of Scotland—“Meallaibh ar naidheachd a Bhanrighinn Elasdaid is tha mi an dochas gum bi ioma Bliadhna sona roimhibh.”

2.9 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Opening today’s debate on the Humble Address, the Prime Minister mentioned how much Her Majesty enjoys the Braemar gathering, which takes place in my constituency. The secret of the success to which we have paid tribute today is the royal family’s ability to recharge the batteries in the highland retreat of Balmoral in the heart of my constituency. On behalf of the many neighbours who live in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, I associate myself with the remarks made today. I wish Her Majesty well in her diamond jubilee and support the Humble Address.

2.9 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I support the very gracious words of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

It seems to me that if we were political scientists creating a state, as we did after the second world war, we would not begin with a monarchy in this day and age. It is an irrational, arbitrary, often deranged institution that depends upon the luck of genes, and it does not always work out well for the country, but not in this case. We must also, it seems, be careful about aligning too closely the history and identity of Britain with the history and identity of monarchy. Royal families come and go; some have very strong connections with the nation, others very weak ones—indeed, some do not even speak the same language as we do.

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But there is no doubt that in the post-war years the monarchy of Queen Elizabeth II closely aligned itself with the changing history and identity of Britain, and often for the most curious reasons. On the one hand, Her Majesty was lucky. History is clear that those who do not wait around for the throne—those who have it thrust upon them at an early age—often prove to be among the most successful of our monarchs. In terms of longevity and achievement, being a queen rather than a king also plays well, particularly for the history of England. Added to that have been the remarkable personal virtues that have been spelled out so effectively by right hon. and hon. Members: patience, dignity, resolve, discretion, duty.

What has been so remarkable in Her Majesty’s reign has been the ability to let the monarchy assist in the transformation of post-war Britain. On her watch, Britain has changed from a predominantly Protestant, white and hierarchical society to a multi-cultural, mixed-race, secular nation inherently hostile towards privilege and inherited position. And yet, through all these extraordinary social and cultural upheavals, which have seen monarchies come and go on the continent, Her Majesty has managed to retain the nation’s abiding affection and provided some sense of the unity of values that we have discussed.

This is partly the product of the nature of monarchy, which is non-sectarian, imperial and then Commonwealth in its reach, curiously suited for the identities of a diffuse, globalised age. Similarly, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) suggested, one of the ironies of the Queen’s strength is her sense of faith in a multi-religious age, a deep commitment to the Church of England and its teachings; providing that official sanction for faith provides space for other faiths to express themselves. At times of repeated difficulties, the Queen has wisely kept the monarchy outside politics and stuck to the old royal aphorism that Ministers are king in this country.

But the work goes on. The monarchy and Her Majesty’s Government are going to have to deal very deftly with the growing calls for republican autonomy in former colonies, as we heard so recently in Jamaica and, inevitably, in Australia. The House of Windsor will also have to confront the challenge of separatism within the UK and perhaps the return to a fully federal vision of monarchy. There is certainly more to be done on both physical and intellectual access to the royal estates, their archives and their histories, but none of this should be an insurmountable challenge.

Finally, I am always wary when the House is too reverential towards monarchy. We should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who has departed, suggested, also speak to our different traditions. We should have a healthy respect but also a critical eye on the actions of the sovereign and on the sovereign’s finances, power and estate. We have our own history and identity in this place, a democratic rather than monarchical heritage that Britain also speaks to. As such, we can all pay deep respects to the enormous personal contribution of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

I can say that particularly from my constituency, Stoke-on-Trent, where the order books are strong and employment is up on the back of this summer’s celebrations.

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In the Potteries the kilns are hot for the diamond jubilee and, on behalf of my constituents, I am delighted to add my support to the Humble Address.

2.14 pm

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): May I associate myself with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the sad loss in Afghanistan today? One of the soldiers was a member of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and my thoughts are with the family and all those who have given their lives—the ultimate sacrifice—in fighting for Afghanistan.

I support the Humble Address today. Before I came into the House, I served Her Majesty the Queen and Duke of Lancaster as a member of the Scots Guards for nine years, and I am currently a member of the Queen’s bodyguard for Scotland. Now that our colleagues, the Scottish National party, have become monarchists too, perhaps there is less cause for me to use that body to guard Her Majesty in future.

I saw behind the scenes of the monarchy in my time before entering politics. We in the House know more than most that it is not easy to make people feel special on their occasion. It is not easy to show interest in the things they do every day, which they take to be so important. It is not easy to live under the daily gaze of the media, both in private life and in public life. We do this on occasion, but Her Majesty the Queen has done it for 60 years. Her family does it every day.

Not only does Her Majesty do that to the highest standard, but she leaves everybody she meets with the feeling that they have been touched by the monarchy and by the nation. When people are given an award by Her Majesty the Queen, it is not because of politics or favour but because our nation values what they do. That is something that she herself embodies. She also leaves with all of us a story of our encounters with the Queen or members of the royal family.

On one occasion I was the officer of the guard at Buckingham palace and I had to accompany Her Majesty the Queen to an investiture. I was at that time seeking a seat in the Scottish Parliament and I had been for the selection meeting on the Monday at Balmoral, in Crathie, to try and stand for the seat of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine in the Scottish Parliament. I was not lucky and did not get through to the final round. However, Her Majesty the Queen asked me what I had done and I said that I had been up in her neck of the woods, but unfortunately I thought that members of the selection board thought I was a bit too young. She said, “I think they should think again.” The next day I got a phone call, to be told that the shortlist of two was too small and would be expanded to five. I was then selected as the Conservative candidate for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and elected to the Scottish Parliament, and perhaps that is why I am standing here today.

The Queen also embodies the Sandhurst tradition of serve to lead, which is all about public duty. She taught me at Sandhurst that you give yourself to lead your country. Perhaps she is the true inspiration of the big society. We forget so much about the value and importance of public duty. People today need more stability. They need less politics, not more, and they

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need impartiality. Her Majesty the Queen has provided all that for our nation, and she has allowed our nation to feel secure in itself and to continue to achieve the greatness that this country achieves and stands for throughout the world.

On behalf of all the armed forces that I served with and the veterans whom I now represent in Lancashire, and my constituents in the Duchy of Lancaster and my constituency, Wyre and Preston North, I wish Her Majesty a happy and successful diamond jubilee, and long may she reign.

2.18 pm

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I add my support to the motion in the name of the Prime Minister and express my best wishes to Her Majesty the Queen in her diamond jubilee year. I recognise the very important contribution she has made to this country over that time and also to our relationships with other nations around the world. It is a remarkable and inspiring achievement that 60 years on from her accession to the throne, she continues to serve with undiminished energy, vigour, dedication and grace.

Other Members have highlighted the Queen’s service and dedication in many spheres of national life, but in my brief remarks I wish to focus on just one example that is of particular importance to me and those I represent, and to which the Prime Minister has already referred. Other Members have spoken of the changing times during which the Queen has reigned. Even during my lifetime we have witnessed some remarkable improvements in relations between Ireland and Britain, particularly over the past few years. However, the state visit to Ireland last year, hosted by the former President, Mary McAleese, which was the first state visit by a British monarch to that state in 100 years, lifted those relationships to an entirely new level and, I believe, have helped to make a tangible contribution to the building of a more shared and prosperous future in Northern Ireland.

Although the success of that historic royal visit was the result of detailed planning, careful management, sensitive choreography and strong political leadership, it was also in no small measure due to the unique warmth of the relationship between those two female Heads of State, who engaged with each other and with the hugely emotive and sensitive issues raised by the visit with the kind of dignity and humility that should mark our approach to all such difficult issues. The transformational effects that the powerful images and thoughtful reflections on our nations’ shared history generated by the visit had on healing the wounds of our difficult past are significant not only in their own right, but in laying out a template and a tone for our future engagement with each other. It was a vivid demonstration of the power of reconciliation and the generosity required for real leadership.

Although that special contribution was a very small part of her past 60 years of service to this country, I believe that it was nevertheless of huge value in Northern Ireland and in these islands and therefore deserves particular recognition as we mark this historic occasion. I pay tribute to the Queen and to Prince Philip for their service to date and wish them God’s richest blessing in the years ahead.

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2.21 pm

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): On behalf of my constituents, I want to describe how the Queen comes across to a great many of us. I have never met Her Majesty, and until I attended a garden party last year I had never seen her in the flesh. Indeed, even then I saw her only from a distance. That is the great experience of many of my constituents and many in this country. However, one thing overrides all that. Many people regard Her Majesty almost as a member of the family, because they know her so well. In a time of crisis she is always there on our television screens. Indeed, Christmas day simply would not be Christmas day without Her Majesty’s 3 o’clock address.

One thing that shines out about having a monarch who is well above the political process is what she does when we have disasters and tragedies in our country, such as the tragic events of 7 July 2005. When she was able to visit the hospital and meet the people who had been so tragically and grievously wounded, the country was able to share in its mourning behind Her Majesty, a lady who is in no way linked to political organisations. During the Falklands war, when some suggested that it was simply too dangerous for her son to be sent into conflict, Her Majesty, never one to shy away from responsibility, would hear nothing of it. She said that he was a serving member of the armed forces and so would go and do his duty. With that comes the respect of the nation and of those who serve Her Majesty and this country. I will keep this short: on behalf of my constituents in Elmet and Rothwell, I simply say “God save the Queen.”

2.23 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): As the Member of Parliament for Britain’s oldest recorded town and the first capital of Roman Britain, I wish to be associated with the Address and much of what has been said. I can recall being a five-year-old at Myland primary school when King George VI died. I can also remember 16 months later seeing television for the first time and watching the coronation at a family friend’s house in Mile End in Colchester.

Like others, I wish to pay tribute not only to Her Majesty the Queen, but to the Duke of Edinburgh for all his support over the years. In particular, I want to mention the support that both have given to many youth organisations over the past 60 years. As a Queen’s scout, I will mention the scout movement and the guide movement. Of course, as Princess Elizabeth, our Queen was a girl guide, and there are other youth organisations that she and Prince Philip have supported. Of the many charities and organisations that she is directly associated with as a patron, I wish to mention LEPRA, the international charity tackling leprosy around the world, whose international headquarters are based in my constituency.

The Queen has made three visits to Colchester in her glorious reign, and I have had the pleasure of witnessing all of them: first as a pupil at St Helena secondary modern school for boys; secondly as deputy mayor of Colchester; and thirdly as the town’s MP. On two occasions the Queen has also visited the university of Essex in Colchester, an institution of which you, Mr Speaker, have fond memories as both a graduate and an honorary

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graduate. You will know that it is the most international of Britain’s universities. I think it is a safe bet that every Commonwealth country will at some stage be represented there, if they are not already, because over 120 nationalities are represented there. The Queen has also been a great supporter of our armed forces. As I represent the garrison town of Colchester, I wish to associate the garrison with my greetings to Her Majesty.

I am a constitutional monarchist. When we look at Presidents of the United States and of France, I think we see that constitutional monarchy has more than the edge. Finally, 2000 years ago Colchester was a Roman city. In the mists of time, somehow that status was lost. It would be marvellous if in this the diamond jubilee year the city status could be restored.

Mr Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can be relied upon to send a copy of his speech to that magnificent institution, the university of Essex, and probably to a good many other institutions besides.

2.26 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): When the first Queen Elizabeth made her golden speech back in 1601, she acknowledged that, more than anything else, it was the affection of her people that had sustained her through her long reign. Addressing one of your predecessors, Mr Speaker, she said:

“And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves.”

Over 400 years later, in our age of constitutional monarchy, we are fortunate indeed to have a monarch who, like her illustrious predecessor, has always understood that it is

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the affection of her people that is most important. The solemn oath that Her Majesty took at her coronation has been and is being fulfilled in every possible way. May I, on behalf of my constituents, offer praise and thanks for her 60 years of service as our Queen and head of the Commonwealth? She has truly lived a life triumphant. May God save our diamond Queen.

2.27 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I join others in congratulating Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. As you know, Mr Speaker, this is a unique occasion, because normally we are not allowed to mention members of the royal family in this place. For 60 years Her Majesty, beyond all call of duty, has managed to be charming to her subjects. Having spent half that number of years in public service, I certainly find it a strain to be pleasant to people morning, noon and night. As I represent the constituency with the largest number of centenarians in the country, I can tell the House that they greatly look forward to the telegram they receive from Her Majesty the Queen—my own mother, Maud, is looking forward to her telegram on 2 May. Finally, I have a question for your good self, Mr Speaker: when Her Majesty celebrates her 100th birthday, who will send her a telegram? Long may she reign over us.

Question put and agreed to , n emine contradicente .


That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.


That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the whole House.

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Points of Order

2.29 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This has been an important day, and we have just had an excellent debate. It is therefore disappointing that the Department for Work and Pensions chose this occasion to release, after the Prime Minister sat down, an announcement stating that two thirds of Remploy factories in this country will now close. That is a matter of great concern to Members on both sides of the House. Have you, Sir, received any request for an oral statement on this subject, and if not how may we now bring Ministers to this House to account for that callous decision?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just establish whether colleagues are seeking to come in on the same matter? I think Mr Bryant is.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking to do so, because you know that earlier this week I raised the matter of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), coming to the Remploy factory in my constituency. All the staff there, many of whom are very vulnerable members of society, have been deeply disturbed by the way in which she came into the office and left. They did not know whether there was going to be an announcement today; the written ministerial statement is simply called “Employment Support”. This has been sneaked out, it is unfair to treat disabled people in this country in that way, and the Minister is wandering around all the radio studios this afternoon. It is a disgrace. We should be treated better, and disabled people in this country should be treated better.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I will take one or two more points of order, then I really must respond.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This afternoon, in the Welsh Assembly, Labour’s Minister, Leighton Andrews, who is not responsible for this policy, will be standing, will be making an oral statement and will be open to questions from democratically elected Members of that Assembly. Yet here, in this place, we have the disgrace of a Minister who sneaks out a written statement. I am unable to question that Minister on the 47 loyal staff in Bridgend. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is unable to question her about the 74 staff in Porth, who also serve my constituency, or about the nine other factories throughout Wales which are threatened.

That is a disgrace, and I genuinely seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, because on a day when we have just spent, quite rightly, some time on an Humble Address to Her Majesty, an institution as venerable as Remploy—with people as loyal as its workers—has not received the courtesy of being addressed within this place. I know that you are a guardian of this House. I hope that you can help us.

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Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just a few weeks ago we had a Back-Bench business debate about Remploy. Dozens of my colleagues took part in it, and it is extremely discourteous of the Minister to fail to come to this House and explain to us exactly what is happening to the organisation. At my local Remploy factory in Aberdare, 42 people are going to lose their jobs, in a job market where there are no jobs. It is an utter disgrace to do that to disabled people at the moment, as it is for the Minister to offer a briefing in room W4 between 3 and 4 o’clock this afternoon, out of sight of all the people in this Chamber and away from the television cameras. It will not do, and I ask you to call the Minister to this House to explain what the policy is all about.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Those people are some of the most vulnerable workers in my constituency, and they were sacked by the Minister at 12.36 pm today through a written statement that was sent to the Library. Offering a briefing in private, when my constituents want to hear the justification for their losing their jobs, is not good enough, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), should be ashamed of herself. She should come here and, if she is making the right decision, make the arguments.

Chris Bryant: She could come at 7 today.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday I raised the future of Remploy with the Chancellor at Treasury Question Time. There was no inkling of any sudden announcement of a mass closure of 36 factories, with the Swansea factory closing down and 1,200 disabled people losing their jobs. Is it in order to make such a statement through the Library, without even a debate about the future of individual factories and their financial viability, given that we have lots of orders coming in, and without even an oral statement? At a time when we have spent so long, quite rightly, celebrating the diamond jubilee of our Queen, Remploy, along with the future job prospects of hundreds of disabled people, is subject to a clandestine, cloak and dagger assassination. It is an absolute disgrace.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very concerned to hear that the Remploy factory in Spennymoor is to be closed. Surely it is possible for the Minister to come to the House at 7 o’clock.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to Members for their points of order, and I note what the hon. Lady has just said, and what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, about the possibility of something being offered to the House by way of a statement later in the day. I can offer no encouragement on that front. I simply make the following points. First, the House knows the importance I attach—the premium that I attach—to statements being made to the House, and to a proper judgment being made as to the merit of the case for scrutiny, there and then, of that statement; secondly, the Treasury Bench is heavily populated, and representatives of it will have heard the strength of

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feeling that has been expressed in the House this afternoon; and, finally, there are well established procedures for Members to raise the matter in the House tomorrow—procedures of which they will themselves be very well aware.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What can be done to clarify the Government’s position on the national planning policy framework? Last night’s “Newsnight” programme reported a very clear understanding that no significant changes would be made to the document, despite vociferous campaigns being run by the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the consultation process. If no changes are to be made, that will be a matter of great concern for many people, so have you been approached by the Government wanting to make a statement on the matter, and if not what can be done to allow the House to question Ministers on it?

Mr Speaker: I have not been so approached. The hon. Lady has at least started to provide a solution to the dilemma that she has identified, by airing her concerns in the House and by placing the matter on the record, and knowing her as I do I have a sense that her efforts will continue and accelerate in a variety of ways.

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Speaker’s Statement

2.37 pm

Mr Speaker: I have a very short statement to make about the arrangements for Tuesday 20 March.

The House will meet for Prayers at 9.45 am. I will then suspend the sitting until 2.30 pm. Members attending the ceremony in Westminster Hall should be in their seats by 10.25 am. The Speaker’s procession with the Mace will enter Westminster Hall shortly before the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen. After the ceremony the Mace will be returned to the Chamber, so the Chamber will be closed to visitors until the sitting is resumed at 2.30 pm. I hope that that is helpful to the House.

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Opposition Day

[Un-allotted Half Day]

Changing Perceptions of Northern Ireland

2.38 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the NI 2012 campaign to change perceptions of Northern Ireland and to encourage many more visitors to come to Northern Ireland; notes that, despite current economic difficulties, this campaign takes place in the context of a momentous year for the UK when the nation will celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen, and will host the Olympic Games; further notes that, in Northern Ireland, 2012 is the centenary of the Titanic tragedy, an event that remains seared into the world’s consciousness and culture, and the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant and Declaration, often described as the foundation document of Northern Ireland; welcomes the enormous progress that has occurred in recent years in moving Northern Ireland forward; and looks forward to the programme of events and activities which will help make Northern Ireland the place to visit in 2012.

I count it as an honour to open this debate this afternoon, but it is correct and right, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to acknowledge the great shadow that has been cast not only over this debate, but across the United Kingdom, with the tragic news that the Prime Minister announced earlier today of six soldiers missing presumed dead in Afghanistan. We remember their families in our prayers, and we trust that they might find comfort in knowing that people are remembering them at this very difficult time.

There is an old cliché in marketing and public relations which states that perception is everything. Regardless of the whys and the wherefores, and even independent of the reality of events as they happen on the ground, a bad perception can be extremely difficult to overcome. Once tarred with such an impression, the tar can be exceptionally difficult to remove and sticks for a long time. For many people beyond the shores of Northern Ireland, their impressions of our corner of the United Kingdom were shaped by the nearly constant stream of negative headlines that were regularly beamed all across the world. With depressing regularity, our television screens were filled with images of carnage, human suffering and murder.

We must never forget the fortitude of our people in these years, for they did not bow to the scourge of IRA terrorism. We regret the tragic loss of life of every innocent victim of terror, and again we express our sympathy to their loved ones. Indeed, this is the anniversary of the murder of three men in a local village beside my home in Coagh, and also the two young soldiers who were murdered in Antrim. We think of their families also this day.

For many people, including investors and business leaders, the perception of Northern Ireland was of a region stuck down in the morass of intractable divisions and beset by problems that could never be resolved. It is therefore worth placing it on record that even in the midst of the darkest days there were glimmers of hope, and a few bright stars shone on the otherwise dark horizon. One area in which Ulster has always punched, sometimes literally, above its weight is in the realm of

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sport. Ulster people enjoy little more than applauding the success of one of their own. So the triumph of Mary Peters at the 1972 Munich Olympics raised people’s spirits in one of the worst years of the troubles of Northern Ireland. The sporting skills of George Best on the football pitch, Wayne McCulloch and Barry McGuigan in the boxing ring, or Alex Higgins in the snooker were sources of local pride. These people were sporting legends who, in their own ways, challenged people’s perception of what it meant to be from Northern Ireland.

Moving forward to more recent days, it is right that we acknowledge the incredible fact, seeing that we are a people of some 1.6 million, that we have stormed to the very top of the world of golf. Everyone in Northern Ireland is so proud of the success of Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy, who has recently reached the pinnacle of golf success, being named No. 1 in the world. These three giants of world golf are tremendous ambassadors for Northern Ireland, as indeed is my local snooker champion, Mark Allen from Antrim. Northern Ireland people are thrilled by their incredible success. In this Olympic year, I hope that Northern Ireland will reap the benefits of the Olympic games and will host a number of competitors and visitors from across the world.

There is no doubt that, in common with all other United Kingdom regions, we are experiencing the effects of the global economic recession. This has been the longest and the toughest recession in living memory. However, the great majority of people to whom I have spoken in my constituency and beyond are convinced that we must do all in our power to ensure that 2012 becomes a lift-off point for the community. There is absolutely no doubt that this year’s expansive programme of events will provide a useful means of dismantling the old perceptions about Northern Ireland.

Ulster people are sometimes known throughout the rest of world as being a little on the serious side and prone to a dose of pessimism. I suppose that, to a certain extent, that criticism is valid. We are, after all, the only people I know of in the United Kingdom who express happiness in a negative way. If one asks someone from London, “How are you?” I suggest that they would probably answer, “I am well, thank you.” Ask an Ulsterman, and one will usually be told two words: “Not bad.” Despite our perceived negativity, I am pleased to report that there is much good news from our small yet vital corner of the United Kingdom, including that we are the happiest people in the United Kingdom. I noticed what the Prime Minister said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). I wish that the Prime Minister could see what we sometimes see on his Benches when we look at some of the faces there. I must confess that I understand what he says, but I am doing my best and playing my part in encouraging Social Democratic and Labour party Members to be more bright and cheerful in this House.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): To reassure my hon. Friend, this morning I passed on to the Prime Minister the compliments of the Northern Ireland section of this House to ensure that he would get the message about the Ulster sense of humour—that it pervades Northern Ireland and knows no distinctions or boundaries whatsoever. I look forward to the Prime Minister taking on board that lesson, and perhaps next

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week at Prime Minister’s questions we will see an end to the angry man and perhaps one of an even more pleasant disposition.

Dr McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

The Ulster humour has helped Northern Ireland through its most difficult days. Many others would have gone into the depths of despair; Northern Ireland was able to plough through over 30 years of continual terrorism and to come out at the other end having beaten the terrorists and ready to put Northern Ireland on a better footing. That says much for the character of the people of the Province.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Last week the Prime Minister commented on the happiness levels of the Democratic Unionist party, and this week the DUP has commented on the happiness levels of the Tories. What assessment has the hon. Gentleman made of the happiness levels of the Liberal Democrats?

Dr McCrea: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that words would often fail me in describing the misery that I see on the faces of Lib Dem Members, but we will leave them for another occasion. I see from their vacant Benches that their level of interest in Northern Ireland affairs is really wonderful today.

Let me return to the good news from our small yet vital part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate is the lowest of any country in the UK. After London, Belfast is the most attractive city in the UK for foreign direct investment. Belfast is among the top 10 cities in the world for financial technology investments, ahead of Glasgow, Dublin and Toronto. Ulster pupils constantly turn in the best GCSE and A-level results of any UK region. These are things that we should rightly be proud of.

I suspect that very few people inside, let alone outside Northern Ireland are aware of those startling facts. That highlights the crucial importance of campaigns such as Northern Ireland 2012. Years of negativity have taken their toll, but I genuinely believe that people are starting to feel good about being from our wee country once more. The slogan for the NI 2012 campaign is “Your time, our place”, and that perfectly encapsulates the rising tide of optimism that exists in the Province. This year will be a tremendous boost for Northern Ireland, with so much going on that it is hard to keep track. Key events in the Province will include the opening of Titanic Belfast, the Olympic and Paralympic torch relay, the Irish Open at Royal Portrush, and the arrival of the Clipper round the world yacht race. The stated aims of the NI 2012 campaign are to change the perception of Northern Ireland, to raise our profile, to drive visitor numbers, to generate economic impact, and to underpin civic pride and self-respect.

I am proud to be from Northern Ireland, and I believe that more and more people from Northern Ireland are starting to feel likewise. We shall reap a remarkable reward. Just as Mary Peters and George Best played such an important role in showing the people of Northern Ireland, and the rest of the world, that hope was not lost during the dark days, imagine the

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positive impact that hundreds and thousands of ambassadors made up of local people can have in this wonderful year. As the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office observed recently,

“if you are not in Northern Ireland this year, frankly, you are no one.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2012; Vol. 539, c. 287.]

I heartily concur with that sentiment.

History is probably more important in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the world. It is certainly a deeply contested subject, which leads many observers to believe that the people of Northern Ireland are utterly consumed by history. That is a mistaken assumption. There is a new spirit throughout the Province, whereby people are prepared to look at history not in a dispassionate way, but in a way that threatens nobody and that allows people from different backgrounds to learn about our glorious history. It is our aim that everyone will more fully develop their understanding of the forces that have played such a role in shaping our society in Northern Ireland.

As a Unionist, I welcome the development of greater understanding and learning, because all too often, history books are written about the Province by people who have never been there and who know little of the circumstances about which they are writing. The biased and one-sided evaluation of history has caused great annoyance among the people whom I represent.

I am pleased that this year, we shall see a wide range of events to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster covenant and declaration. The men and women of Ulster who answered the call of Sir Edward Carson to oppose Home Rule from Dublin laid the foundation stone of the Northern Ireland state. Although officially, Northern Ireland’s year one is 1921, in a real sense 1912 was actually the starting point, because after the signing of the covenant and the declaration there could be no doubt in the mind of Lloyd George’s Administration that the Unionists of Ulster were not prepared to accept Home Rule from Dublin. From 1912, the irreversible slide towards the establishment of the state of Northern Ireland commenced.

It is important to note the significant role that women played in the organisation of the campaign against Home Rule, which culminated in the massive Ulster day demonstration on 28 September 1912. Women were the backbone of the campaign against Home Rule. Indeed, more women than men signed the declaration in Ulster. In many towns and villages, it was the local women’s organisations and individual women who delivered the logistical support required for the mammoth undertaking of gathering more than half a million signatures. That important aspect of the history of those significant events has not, in my view, received the coverage that it deserves. I hope that it will be more evident in the forthcoming centenary celebrations.

When I think of the ordinary Ulster women who gave so much for the cause that they believed in, motivated by a sense of patriotism and principle, my mind inevitably turns to the most remarkable woman of the last three generations: Her Majesty the Queen. I remember her coronation. I remember a fancy dress competition in my local town of Stewartstown. I was dressed as a little sailor. My sister won the competition and we were very proud of her.

The Queen is a constant background presence in the lives of many of our citizens, and comes to the fore on

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great national occasions such as Remembrance Sunday, the trooping of the colour and Christmas. The Queen has been the one fixed point in an ever-changing world. It is remarkable to think that this Prime Minister receives advice and counsel from a monarch whose first Prime Minister was Sir Winston Churchill. There is no doubt that Her Majesty has made good her vow that her whole life would be devoted to the service of her people. This year we mark 60 remarkable years of service, and we give thanks to Almighty God for all that Her Majesty has accomplished on behalf of our United Kingdom. We are proud to say, “Long may she reign.”

Many people in Northern Ireland, even people from a nationalist background, hold Her Majesty in high regard. I wish that their elected representatives would represent that position. I hope that the Government, within the obvious constraints of security, will afford as many Ulster people as possible the opportunity to say a big thank you to Her Majesty in her special year.

Finally, this year also marks the centenary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. It is impossible to understate the strength of the iconic Titanic brand. From San Diego to Singapore, everyone has heard of the famous vessel, but how many people know that she was built in Belfast? As the locals have been known to remark, “The boat was fine when it left Belfast.” I know that the Executive at Stormont are working hard to ensure that people feel the full benefit of this significant anniversary. I urge the Government to work closely with the devolved Administration in that regard.

Edmund Burke said:

“People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”

This year, we pause to look back in thankful remembrance at all that our ancestors and earlier generations achieved, but we do so with a resolute determination to build on the inheritance bequeathed to us. I hope that posterity will record 2012 as a year of even greater progress in Northern Ireland. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I inform the House that Mr Speaker has not selected the amendment.

2.56 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on its choice of the motion for today’s debate. As ever, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), who spoke with his customary eloquence and passion for Northern Ireland. I entirely endorse his comments about the six soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan today.

Before I continue, I apologise to the House that I shall have to miss some of the debate. Shortly after my speech, I have to attend a meeting of the ministerial working group on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary. I know that the House debated that issue last week, when I was unavoidably absent due to a long-planned public meeting in my constituency. I have been going to Northern Ireland and visiting businesses nearly every week for almost five years, and have campaigned to put rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy right at the top of the political agenda. That became a firm commitment in the Conservative party

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manifesto and was included in the coalition’s programme for government, which resulted in a public consultation last year on a Treasury paper and the establishment of the ministerial working group. That all demonstrates that rebalancing the economy remains one of the highest priorities for me and my Department. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will of course be here throughout the debate to respond to the points made by right hon. and hon. Members.

I welcome the choice of subject for this debate. Let me say at the outset that the Government support the broad thrust of the motion. The Government will support the Northern Ireland Executive in their efforts to make Northern Ireland a better and more economically successful place. The Northern Ireland 2012 campaign is an excellent example of that endeavour.

The debate is also extremely timely. There has long been a complaint that the world does not get to hear about the many great things about Northern Ireland, not least the tremendous quality of life there. Only last week, a survey found that people in Northern Ireland are the happiest people in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that DUP Members are taking their lead from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and smiling today, reflecting the sunny disposition for which they are well known. While I am on the subject of humour, I should pay tribute to that other Carson, Frank, who sadly died last month. He put Northern Ireland on the map for all the right reasons during some difficult times.

In the major events that are to take place in Northern Ireland during 2012-13, we have an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in recent years, how we can capitalise on that and how we can build on the remarkable international good will that Northern Ireland enjoys. In that context, I pay tribute to the contribution made by successive US and Irish Administrations and a number of key individuals, without whom much of the progress made might not have been possible.

Let us not forget just how dramatic that progress has been. When I first entered the House, debates about Northern Ireland were still dominated by security-related issues or the latest crisis in the peace process. Decommissioning, alleged breaches of the ceasefires, suspensions of the Assembly, the postponement of elections and emergency legislation were the main Northern Ireland issues that came before the House. Now, we have stable, functioning and inclusive political institutions. Responsibility for delivering the key public services rests in local hands and Northern Ireland is viewed across the world as an example of hope rather than despair. I pay tribute to politicians from all parties, both here and in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to ensure that that process of building stability and reconciliation continues.

With that hard-won political stability, we now have to focus even more resolutely on the challenges ahead, in particular rebalancing the economy and overcoming community division to build a genuinely shared future. I shall briefly say a word about each of those.

We all know that the Northern Ireland economy is too dependent on public spending—even the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) might agree. We understand the historical reasons why that is the case, but it is not sustainable. We have to revive the private sector to secure sustainable jobs and prosperity for the future. We shall discuss how to do that in the meeting that I am

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about to attend at the Treasury. One matter under consideration is the possibility of giving the Executive the power to vary the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland.

As I have said time and again, Northern Ireland has some truly world-class companies, including Wrightbus, which is delivering the new Routemaster bus for London, F. G. Wilson, Norbrook and Randox, to name but a few; and let us not forget world-renowned Northern Ireland brands such as Bushmills. Northern Ireland also has a growing reputation for the quality of our creative industries. The hugely successful “Game of Thrones” is filmed in Belfast, and Northern Ireland’s latest Oscar winner is Terry George, for his short film “The Shore”. There are bands such as Snow Patrol, which provided the soundtrack for the brilliant video that helped Londonderry to win the right to be UK city of culture next year, and who can forget the buzz around the MTV awards at the Odyssey in Belfast last November?

We have some great companies, some great brands and some dynamic sectors, but we need more of them, so the Government will do everything we can to create the conditions for the private sector in Northern Ireland to grow, and we will support the Executive in the areas that are devolved to it. One example of where we can work very closely together is in our efforts to secure foreign direct investment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State recently joined forces with the Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister on a trip to the Gulf. I trust that that will be one of many joint initiatives in pursuit of our shared objective of building a new, dynamic, 21st-century, private enterprise-led economy, rather than one based on unsustainable public spending and debt.

One of the sectors where huge potential remains is tourism. Northern Ireland is a place of outstanding natural beauty, from the Giant’s Causeway right across to the Fermanagh lakes. We have some world-class attractions, from Derry’s walls to the new Titanic project in Belfast. As the motion reminds us, next month will be the centenary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic, and the eyes of the world will be upon Northern Ireland.

The eyes of the world were also on Northern Ireland this week, when Rory McIlroy became officially the world’s No. 1 golfer—a magnificent achievement. Northern Ireland is the golfing capital of not just the UK but the world, as the Irish Open at Portrush will reinforce. Let us hope that we can use it as a launch pad to get the British Open to Northern Ireland soon—we should all campaign together for that. In the week before Cheltenham, let us not forget Tony McCoy, champion jockey for 16 incredible years. Northern Ireland is now being energetically promoted in overseas markets through the agency of Tourism Ireland, a happy example of co-operation with the Administration in the south for mutual benefit.

The second area where we really need to see solid progress in Northern Ireland is the building of a shared future. According to one report, the costs of division, be it segregation or the duplication of services, amount to a massive £1.5 billion, and there are 85,000 empty school places. It is encouraging that the First Minister and the Education Minister agree that that cannot go on. In the new Northern Ireland, those issues have to be

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tackled—we cannot have a society in which everything is carved up on sectarian grounds—and most of the powers to tackle the problem rest with the Executive. We acknowledge the steps that they have taken so far, and we will support them when they have to take difficult decisions in the future.

I acknowledge that in a society that has been beset by deep-seated division, none of that work is easy and it will take time. However, if we are to change the long-term perceptions of Northern Ireland we must, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, work to build a

“shared future; not a shared out future.”

For many people, the events that we have lined up over the coming years will cast Northern Ireland in a completely different light. I shall briefly mention two of them.

First, the House has just presented an Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen marking her diamond jubilee, which will be celebrated across the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland. As the hugely successful visit to the Republic of Ireland last May demonstrated, Her Majesty is hugely admired and held in great affection throughout these islands. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly referred to her at the weekend as “our magnificent Queen”, and I want everybody in Northern Ireland who wants to participate to have the opportunity to do so, be it through a street party, lighting beacons or planting trees.

Last November, I joined Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal at the Northern Ireland launch of the Woodland Trust’s jubilee woods project in Carrickfergus. I also recently met the Lord Mayor of Belfast and discussed a number of matters, including arrangements for the jubilee. I acknowledge the constructive and positive way in which politicians and parties from across the community, such as those on Belfast city council, have approached the issue. I hope it is a sign of how far we have moved on in Northern Ireland that one can be generous and respectful towards other traditions without in any way undermining one’s own beliefs. That has been seen recently in attendance at sporting events, for example. Last month, the First Minister attended a Gaelic Athletic Association match, and this week the Deputy First Minister was at the home of Northern Ireland football, Windsor Park. Those events are not in themselves particularly significant on this side of the Irish sea, but in Northern Ireland they are of enormous symbolism and evidence of progress.

The motion also mentions the centenary of the Ulster covenant, which falls in September. The catalyst for the covenant was the introduction in this House 100 years ago next month of the Government of Ireland Bill or, as it is more commonly known, the third Home Rule Bill. The passions that it generated are well known, and my own party played no small part in the parliamentary and constitutional battles from 1912 to 1914. The task for this generation is to mark centenaries such as that of the covenant in a way that is respectful and promotes a broader understanding of events, such as the fact that of the 470,000 signatures on the covenant, some 30,000 were from what is now the Republic of Ireland. To that end, the Government have been working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government on adopting a co-ordinated approach to the covenant and other centenaries to follow in the next decade. On Monday, we shall launch an exhibition in Westminster

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Hall to mark the centenary of the third Home Rule Bill, and we very much hope the exhibition will be able to travel to Dublin and Stormont.

The issues that we are discussing are hugely important to the future of every single person in Northern Ireland. As the motion makes clear, Northern Ireland has changed for the better. The events to which it refers, which I have touched upon this afternoon, will go a long way towards changing perceptions. However, as I have made clear, there are still significant challenges ahead if we are to build a truly peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which everyone has a shared future. The Government, working with the Executive, will do everything in their power to meet those challenges. In that spirit, I once again commend the hon. Member for South Antrim and his party for the motion, which we strongly welcome.

3.9 pm

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I concur with the motion and the comments made so far: 2012 will be a significant year for the communities in Northern Ireland. I note with interest the Secretary of State’s comments about several productive and beneficial events, and his recommendation of wider participation in them, but I raise a point of concern about that. It is unfortunate that Conservative and Labour participation in this debate is not as wide as the participation in this year’s events that he recommends to the people of Northern Ireland. Hopefully, lack of Conservative and Labour participation will be remedied in the coming weeks and months.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) outlined a series of events that are to be celebrated this year. The covenant is of considerable historical and cultural interest across the community. People want to be able to look back at, recommend and acknowledge the origins of the state of Northern Ireland, which many trace back to 1912 and the signing of the covenant.

The Titanic and other matters that are signally important to Northern Ireland’s tourism infrastructure have already been mentioned, as has the golfing greatness of Rory McIlroy, and of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke from my constituency. It would appear that Portrush is now the golfing capital of the world. I hope that that will be case not just in the Irish Open this year, but in the preparations for the Open in a few years.

I emphasise that 2012 is a year of preparation as well as commemoration. We are beginning a decade of commemorating centenaries. Up to 2021, we have a series of commemorations in which to participate and to acknowledge. I concur with all those who have said that the commemorations should be inclusive so that everyone can enjoy and celebrate. Many preparations have been made to ensure that that happens.

We are also preparing for next year, when Londonderry will be the first UK city of culture. In the next few months, there will be considerable interest and work to ensure that it becomes the template for all the others that follow. We have a small window of opportunity in which to prepare and organise to ensure that world sees what we all know is the case. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) alluded to the survey that shows that Northern Ireland is the happiest region of the United Kingdom. We all

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knew that. I was somewhat surprised in last week’s Prime Minister’s questions that the Prime Minister thought otherwise. I recommend that he attends some of the DUP’s parliamentary parties. He will find out that there is humour every day of every week of every month of every year. I understand that some correspondence is winging its way to him as we speak to ensure that he knows and acknowledges the type of humour that we have all expressed in the past 20 or 30 years, even in the darkest days.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the Prime Minister was not aware of the happiness in the DUP because he and some of his colleagues have spent the past number of years flirting and conniving with the Ulster Unionist party? Perhaps some of that has rubbed off and caused a perception that all Ulster politicians and all Unionists are somehow dour and miserable, whereas that applies to only one section of the Ulster Unionist party.

Mr Campbell: “More tea, vicar?” as they say in the best circles, as we move swiftly on. However, I concur with my right hon. Friend.

As we look forward, particularly over the next two to three years, we see important landmark decisions and historical events that need to be commemorated. In recent years, monumental and historically significant events came and went without advantage being taken of them to ensure that Northern Ireland plc benefited from them. We must not make that mistake this year or next. I therefore commend my friend in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Arlene Foster, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, for marketing this year and emphasising that Northern Ireland is the place to be. We need to ensure that the rest of the world sees—hopefully they will see it during the Irish Open—the marvellous, fantastic scenery on the north coast, the golfing that is beyond compare, which is why we get so many champions, and the culture of Northern Ireland.

The world needs to come to Northern Ireland, and I am glad that the Minister of State has said that on previous occasions in the House. We need to drive the message home to ensure that the whole United Kingdom will benefit. We are approaching the Olympics, in which the entire nation will participate. I hope that there will be medal winners from Northern Ireland. Many people have suggested that that will be the case particularly in boxing. I do not know why fighting seems to bring out the best in Northern Ireland, but it does. The boxing regime seems to deliver medal winners.

Dr McCrea: Does my hon. Friend agree that the warmth of the welcome that visitors will receive in Northern Ireland is beyond compare? Will he also acknowledge that when people come to the Olympics and to London, which will be the focal point, it is vital that they are encouraged to cross to Northern Ireland to see the beauty of our Province?

Mr Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that. As he represents the constituency where Belfast international airport is, I expect him to ensure that the red carpet is rolled out as people arrive.

Many Departments in Northern Ireland are preparing for the various commemorations. Of course, like every other part of the United Kingdom, we are hamstrung

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to some extent because of the austere times. None the less, they must not prevent us from marking and marketing the events so that the people of Northern Ireland benefit.

I not only pay tribute to those who are preparing for the events, but point out to the rest of the United Kingdom and Members who represent constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales that a good, peaceful, progressive and prosperous Northern Ireland is in the interests of the United Kingdom. Just as we have exported many of our sports people and produced many engineers and inventors who have taken their expertise to an international level, we want to participate in the life of the nation, so that Northern Ireland’s place is secure not only in the United Kingdom but in UK history and for future generations.

3.18 pm

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): First, I echo the comments of the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) about the tragic events in Afghanistan in the past 24 hours and the six servicemen killed in action. Their service and their sacrifice is an inspiration to us all.

I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on securing this most welcome debate. It is timely to have such a debate. As the motion suggests, it is indeed a momentous year for Northern Ireland, with the diamond jubilee, the Olympics, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster and, of course, the same anniversary for the signing of the Ulster covenant and declaration.

It is my pleasure to serve on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The Committee has visited Northern Ireland on many occasions in the past 18 months, which I have found fascinating. For somebody who first became active in politics in the time of the troubles, it is remarkable to see what has been achieved and what progress has been made since the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

Although fantastic progress has been made and although I am in complete support of the Democratic Unionist party motion, it would be naive at best to ignore the ongoing challenges of the security situation in Northern Ireland. Let us be clear that although we all want to promote Northern Ireland’s economy, tourism and future, the threat level remains at severe. The fact remains that there have been 13 separate attacks against national security targets, and the intent and capability of organisations such as the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and others remains malevolent.

Furthermore, it is impossible to engage in dialogue with dissident organisations that show no signs of renouncing their violent or criminal ways. The Secretary of State has made it clear on many occasions in this House that the British Government will never compromise on the security of our citizens in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to the work that he and the Minister are doing to ensure that our citizens are protected, and to the security services, the police force and everybody involved on the ground.

Improvements are being made. There were fewer attacks in 2011 than in 2010 and I hope that trend will continue. Another positive is that both the leaderships of the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force remain committed to their ceasefires, albeit that

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members of both groups are still involved in unsanctioned violent activity. On a larger political scale, normality is slowly but surely emerging. Last year, the Northern Ireland Executive published its programme for government. As the First Minister, Peter Robinson, has said, it is a statement that Northern Ireland is prepared for the future, prepared to modernise and reform, and ready to move forward as one community.

Looking to the future, the security situation is a challenge facing Northern Ireland, but the economy is a challenge facing Northern Ireland and Britain as a whole. The UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are taking steps to improve the situation. As hon. Members will know, the coalition Government have delivered on a commitment they made to consult on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy. As the Secretary of State has just said, the ministerial working group on rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy met at the end of last year and will do so again today. That cross-departmental approach is most welcome and has been praised by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

Tourism will play a crucial part in rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy. Northern Irish business is set to benefit this year in particular because of the Olympic games, including to the tune of £18 million from games-related contracts alone. That is why I also welcome the announcement in January this year that Arlene Foster, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, who has responsibility for tourism, had reallocated £3.5 million from her Department’s budget to prioritise the promotion of tourism this year. Along with other hon. Members, I hope for a successful year for Northern Ireland tourism this year while the eyes of the world are focused on Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This year begins a decade of commemorations for Northern Ireland and we should of course look forward to them, but, as the Secretary of State has said, we must not be complacent and must remain vigilant. Let us remember that the dissidents have virtually no local support and that all the political parties are united against them. Long may that continue.

I am in full support of the DUP motion. From my own experience, I know the Province to be a wonderful place to visit. It is steeped in history and its friendly people have aspirations and hope for the future. One of my closest and oldest friends in my constituency is a former councillor called David Bell, who is from Bangor. He was very helpful when I joined the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in explaining some of the complexity and history of Northern Ireland politics, which I have found very useful.

We must accept that there are challenges with the ongoing security situation, political progress and rebalancing the economy, but, as the motion states, this year of commemoration and celebration should be the catalyst to realising the aspirations held by so many.

3.23 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I am happy to join my regional colleagues in extolling the virtues and wonderful attractions of the region that we represent and that we are all very happy to call home. When I listen to them, I am conscious of the need for us all to have a constantly happy deportment—there is an onus on us to go about

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this place with the demeanour of Aer Lingus cabin crew, smiling at everything we meet. That was hard to sustain during my many long hours on the Financial Services Public Bill Committee yesterday.

The Social Democratic and Labour party tabled an amendment to the motion not because we disagree with the thrust of it—it recognises the significance of the opportunity that 2012 represents for Northern Ireland—but because we believe other points could have been made. I do not wish to dwell on this, but parts of the motion are perhaps gratuitously partial for some of us and could have been left out. SDLP Members wanted to make the motion a little less exclusive to Northern Ireland by dealing with the tourism and hospitality sectors more generally, and to make it a little less exclusive within Northern Ireland by ensuring some of its narrower and more partial references were not included.

Nevertheless, I have no umbrage to take with points that have been made by honourable colleagues from the Democratic Unionist party on the events that we will mark this year and in coming years. We must also deal with the inter-meshing and layering of those events, hopefully in a spirit of purposeful inquiry, which is one of the terms used in the context of Derry’s bid for UK city of culture in respect of dealing with the past, including the recent past. We should acknowledge those issues up front, deal with them in a spirit of purposeful inquiry, and engage visitors in that regard.

As we commemorate, we need to remember that, in the next decade, we will have not only a series of centenary anniversaries, but significant half-centenary anniversaries, which might be a lot more sensitive. We must manage all of them positively. We should handle the past sensitively—our commemorations should not make potential visitors sensitive, wary or inhibited about coming to any part of Northern Ireland. One great benefit of the 2012 promotion is that it has been fully embraced and well marketed by Tourism Ireland as well as by the tourism industry in Northern Ireland, which is very much behind that effort. We saw that in recent events in London—a very good event took place in St James’s palace. A team of devolved Ministers was there, including the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. That wide representation was important and positive.

Rather than just ensuring that we have positive events that people who already know Northern Ireland and are from Northern Ireland can celebrate positively, it is important that we get much more market reach. That is why this year is so important. It is not that it is the only year that people should come to Northern Ireland, but it is the year when people most wake up to the fact that they should come. I have no doubt that anybody who comes this year will come back and make many repeat visits.

It is important to ensure that people coming to the island of Ireland from any part of the world ensure that they experience the benefits of the whole island. In the past, many tourists to the south did not trickle over the border to the north, as they should. We want to ensure that in the now more benign context people are given every encouragement to do that.

My party’s amendment on the VAT issue was not selected, but we previously tabled an early-day motion that has the support of all parties. In the build-up to the

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Budget, we encourage the Minister to suggest to the Chancellor that it would be timely to consider giving the tourism sector, not just in Northern Ireland but everywhere in the UK, a boost through targeted relief on VAT rates. That was used very successfully in the south of Ireland last year and this year, and has been used in other parts of Europe as well. It is entirely consistent with EU rules and would be a good way of encouraging people to holiday at home. Unlike wider VAT reductions, it would trap the multiplier in our own economy by benefiting a home sector instead of paying for imports. We want to do that because it would support tourism more widely.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact that Members from the Democratic Unionist party fully support his suggestion about what the Government should consider in the run-up to the Budget. There is no doubt that in terms of wins in the Northern Ireland economy and boosting employment, tourism is one sector where relatively rapid progress can be made, and targeted interventions, as he suggests, would be extremely helpful.

Mark Durkan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Of course, many in the media say that more people are likely to holiday in the eurozone this year because of the weakness of the euro, which is an added reason there should be a timely intervention from the Chancellor—to encourage people to holiday here within the sterling zone.

The changed perceptions of Northern Ireland are welcome but have been hard-earned and hard-won. They are a result of the changed context created by many political efforts over the past few years. I am certainly proud of the role that my party has played in consistently opposing violence from any quarter and standing up for shared institutions and political arrangements within Northern Ireland, within Ireland and between these islands. That, of course, has been vindicated in what we now see working so well. Many of the naysayers and detractors—those who were totally opposed and said that it would or could never happen—are now among those happily showing how well it works and doing so well. It is great to see that proof and vindication, although some of us, of course, have learned that vindication in politics does not always translate into reward, but so be it—we have learned to empathise with the prodigal son’s brother and get over it.

This is an important time for Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for East Derry—I mean East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) before he corrects me—made this point not just about 2012 but about 2013 and beyond. In 2013, my city will be the designated city of culture in the UK. Furthermore, some of the efforts building up to that, including marking its successor role in the cultural Olympiad, will take place this year. It is important, therefore, that we see 2012 not just as a stand-alone occasion but as part of a platform or springboard into the future.

It is important, if we are to attract tourists, that we offer them not just value for money but value for time, which the tourism and hospitality sector in Northern Ireland has increasingly been developing—and has had to develop. In the past, there have been questions about whether visitors have had value for time. The Sunday

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problem has raised questions about what experiences and opportunities visitors have had, and in some cases, there has even been the Monday problem, because some visitor amenities are not open on Mondays.

We have to do more. We have to invest in our attractions and distractions for visitors, if we are to maximise the extraction of money, which is what we need out of tourism. There is more for different Departments to do—it is not just the job of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland, and there is not just the Chancellor’s role in respect of VAT; there is also a role for other Departments and local councils.

Members are used to hearing Northern Ireland Members plead that we are a special case because we are at the bottom of so many of the wrong league tables and so need special derogations and exemptions. In many instances, that will be true and valid for particular sectors, sections and interests in our community, but it is also important to recognise that increasingly sectors, industries and locations in Northern Ireland are getting to the top of the right tables, and not just in sports or whatever. When I listened to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) refer to the range of sporting achievements in Northern Ireland, I was reminded of a time when, as Deputy First Minister, I was going into the Assembly for questions. A civil servant came up to me hastily and said, “Great news! You get to announce this!” I was then given a note that told me that I could announce to the Chamber that Northern Ireland had just won a gold medal in the Commonwealth games—for shooting. I was somewhat reluctant to go in with that news, and when hon. Members are talking about boxing and other things, one can understand my trepidation.

I do not want to appear to avoid what the motion says about the Queen’s diamond jubilee, because the wrong thing might be read into it if I did. I have mentioned that I served as Deputy First Minister, some 10 years ago. When the Queen visited the south last year, I was reminded that during that time I became the first nationalist Minister on the island of Ireland officially to receive the Queen on the island, when, I officially received her during the Stormont part of her jubilee tour. I am not British; I am not a Unionist, a monarchist or a royalist. However, I respect any Head of State, and I particularly respect someone who is valued and esteemed by so many people, including my fellow countrymen. In that context, I have no issue with respecting others. We have to learn the ethic of respect and being respected, and that acknowledging other people’s loyalties and affinities does not compromise the integrity of one’s own. Not only is the way in which we can share, appreciate and celebrate each other’s beliefs and values together better for us; it also makes us a more attractive and comfortable place for visitors to come and engage in.

I just hope that, in recognising that, people recognise that there are other views, sensitivities, outlooks and affinities in Northern Ireland, and that people should not always make sweeping presumptions. I hope that everyone currently involved in the institutions in Northern Ireland can find comfortable ways of accommodating each other and showing mutual respect in an appropriate way. That was helped greatly by the manner of the Queen’s visit last year. All credit should go not just to

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Her Majesty and everyone associated with her remarks and gestures at that time, but to the previous President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and her husband, Martin, for all the great work they did to improve not just relations between these islands, but relations within the island. That work was all solid investment in ensuring that perceptions of Northern Ireland would change and that our perceptions in Northern Ireland of each other and of our place would also change.

In that context, I have no hesitation in accepting the overall, underlying point of the motion, which is about the tourism drive and the welcome to visitors. I appreciate that there might not be a big attendance in the Chamber; indeed, I should put on record the fact that other Northern Ireland Members are conflicted, because we have an “Upstairs, Downstairs” situation in this place today. The Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs is currently meeting upstairs, so before someone starts twittering to the “Nolan” show or somewhere else asking, “Where were these people?”, I should point out that Members are conflicted and compromised, with some caught there and unable to be here.

Those who tire of us in Northern Ireland getting together to lobby for our special case may have an opportunity today to recognise that we have been able to get together to sell our special place through tourism. However, tourism and our visitor attractions are not the only things we have to offer. In terms of industry, sport, and academic and research achievement, Northern Ireland is moving ahead. It is surfing all the opportunities available to it, in the context of Europe and the wider island of Ireland, and maximising those opportunities that arise from its being well placed within these islands to gain things in the United Kingdom context and maximise things in an Irish context. It is in that spirit that, although I have cautioned the House about certain parts of the motion, I do not want that to eclipse the underlying endorsement of the worth of Northern Ireland as a place to go in 2012, and not just this year, but many more years thereafter.

3.39 pm

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I rise to speak in support of the motion tabled in my name and those of my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party. The motion unashamedly blows the trumpet and beats the drum for Northern Ireland, and we are well known for beating the drum there. I was raised in a house in which, unless we could beat or put up a Lambeg drum, we knew nothing. That was when I was a small boy. I have grown slightly since then—[Hon. Members: “Upwardly or outwardly?”] In more ways than one. It was a great childhood and a great part of my life and my culture.

Of course we on these Benches would say that Northern Ireland was the best place on earth, and that the greatest people in the world were those from Northern Ireland. Our motion announces to the world that Northern Ireland is open for business, and invites the world in its entirety to come along and join us. Whether they want history, culture, performing arts, spectacular scenery, activity holidays, sporting holidays or just lazy day holidays—which would suit me very well—there is something for everyone, and it is all served up by the people with the warmest hearts and the warmest welcome to be found anywhere.

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It is a tradition in homes in Northern Ireland—as it might be in the rest of the United Kingdom—that the kettle is put on as soon as someone enters the house, and they are given a cup of tea. I am well used to that in my constituency. When I visit all the old ladies that I have to talk too, the buns are put on the table—

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Ah, it’s the buns you go for!

David Simpson: That is my excuse for what I might call my slim physique.

Mr Dodds: Does my hon. Friend agree that he is the living embodiment of the theory that it is not always the case that Ulster says no?

David Simpson: Absolutely. I was brought up in the country, and my background is in the meat industry, so I believe that I should be a good advertisement for that industry. Also, I have to say that it took a lot of money to put this physique in place, and it would be a shame to lose it.

We also have the best golfers in the world, and a good few of the best golf courses as well. We produced the greatest footballer that ever lived, and the greatest ship that ever sailed. We helped to build America and gave it many of its Presidents, including Andrew Jackson, whose family originates from my constituency, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. We also gave it Richard Nixon, but we will move on pretty quickly. John Dunlap, who printed the American declaration of independence, was also from our shores.

Jim Shannon: My hon. Friend will be aware that we also gave America hillbilly music, which came from the hills of County Antrim. That country-style music swept across all the southern states of America. I think that Elvis Presley’s ancestors also came from Northern Ireland.

David Simpson: I was trying to avoid mentioning the fact that hillbilly music originated in Northern Ireland, but it is certainly part of the legacy of the Ulster Scots, and I will allow my hon. Friend to deal with that side of things, although I trust that he will not try to sing.

Joseph Scriven, from Banbridge in my constituency, gave the world one of the sweetest hymns in the English language when he wrote “What a friend we have in Jesus”. We have produced great inventors, too—Harry Ferguson, who produced the Ferguson tractors that can be seen all over the world; and Frank Pantridge, who invented the portable heart defibrillator, which saves thousands of lives across the world each year.

We heard about other contributions at a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time. The Prime Minister was asked about Northern Ireland’s ranking and whether Northern Ireland had the happiest people in the United Kingdom. He did not seem to think it applied to us; I do not know why. One of my honourable colleagues—he is no longer in the Chamber—mentioned the Social Democratic and Labour party. I do not know why he did, but I see that SDLP Members are smiling today, so things are looking up.

Let me assure right hon. and hon. Members that, although it sometimes seems that we in Northern Ireland have the worries of the world on our shoulders, there is

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a joy deep down in the hearts of the people of Northern Ireland—and we are very glad to represent them in this mother of all Parliaments.

Northern Ireland is not yet at the end of the journey. There is no doubt that we have come a long way in recent years. Just 10 years ago, the Province was a very different place and was in a different situation as the Assembly lurched from one suspension to another. Public confidence in the political structures was low, while public uncertainty about the future of Northern Ireland was high. The last 10 years have seen very significant change and positive progress—so much so that a recent Northern Ireland Life and Times survey showed 73% of the community favouring Northern Ireland’s remaining in the United Kingdom. That figure included a slim majority of the Roman Catholic community, which is encouraging.

It is not over-egging the pudding too much to suggest that such has been the progress made in recent years that Northern Ireland is more settled in this United Kingdom at present than Scotland is. Perhaps what is needed in Scotland is a second flank of Democratic Unionist party MPs, so that we could help the Scots to maintain their stand. That might not be a bad idea, and it is worth looking at. After all—here I go into a history lesson—King Fergus had the old kingdom of Dalriada, which eventually united the Scots under Kenneth McAlpin, and gave the land its name, while St Columba and his successors in the old Celtic Church gave it its heart, its vision and its passion.

As part of the generation that grew up amid all the troubles that we have come through, I can look back to very dark days. Like many people in Northern Ireland, I can look back to days when members of my own family circle were killed during those years. I can also look back over more recent years and trace the progress that has been made; and I can lift my eyes and look around me at the situation in the Province today and look forward to days yet to come. I can see the path and the upward curve that we are on.

Turning to wider issues, I am pleased to say that Northern Ireland has had many sporting heroes down through the years, and we have already heard about many of them today. For example, Kennedy Kane McArthur won the Olympic marathon 100 years ago in 1912. I have two gold medal winners from the Commonwealth games in my constituency—as one hon. Member mentioned, they won their gold medals for shooting. We also have Dame Mary Peters, who went to school in my constituency, and still comes to the constituency to get her hair done.

Jim Shannon: Not at the same place as you.

David Simpson: Not at the same place as me.

When Dame Mary Peters won the gold medal I was still at school, and I remember walking down the street in one of the towns in my constituency, Portadown, alongside the car. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), I also remember the celebrations for the Queen’s silver jubilee which took place throughout Northern Ireland. I have to say that my hon. Friend goes back a bit further than I do, and that I certainly did not take up the challenge to dress in a sailor suit. I do not think that my hon. Friend will live that one down for a day or two.

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Other people have already been mentioned, but I think it is worth mentioning them again. We have had great legends like Joey Dunlop, who won five consecutive motorcycle TT Formula 1 world titles in the 1980s. We have also had many boxing champions down the years, and I know that many in the next generation will be as good as the greats that we have had in the past. More recently, our very own transatlantic rower, Kate Richardson, who comes from my constituency, set the world record as part of the Row For Freedom challenge. What a great event that was.

This year, Northern Ireland is the capital of the world when it comes to golf. Who would have thought five or 10 years ago that we would have the world’s number one golfer in the Province? All three who have recently won championships are great ambassadors for the whole Province, and for all the people of Northern Ireland as well.

That brings me to the wider elements of the motion, which refers to the anniversaries and events that are sprinkled throughout 2012. The Olympics will be a showcase for London, but—as other Members have requested—they should be for the whole United Kingdom as well. The world will descend on London for this, the greatest sporting show on earth, and it is vital for there to be a legacy: for London, of course, because that is where it is being held, but also for the whole United Kingdom. I urge the Government to ensure that that happens.

This year is also the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and the signing of the Ulster covenant. The maiden voyage and sinking of the Titanic gave birth to a legend that has held a fascination for the world ever since, and the new signature Titanic project in Belfast promises to be a world-class project that will not only fascinate but attract visitors to Northern Ireland from all over the world.

The sinking of the Titanic gave birth to an enduring legend, but the signing of the covenant in many ways helped to give birth to Northern Ireland itself; but not before the flower of Ulster was cut down amid the mud and the death of the Somme and elsewhere. They died in their tens of thousands. Many who had signed the covenant volunteered and died in those fields of France. To many today, sadly, they are but names on some historic document, but they are sons and husbands who were never to return home again, and those who were lost were mourned: they were mourned in every parish, every village and every hamlet throughout Northern Ireland.

Also, of course, this year we will celebrate the diamond jubilee of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. What a monarch she has been! I had the privilege of meeting Her Majesty when she paid a visit to my constituency. It was a remarkable time for me and my wife. I remember that we attended an exhibition in the town of Banbridge in County Down. Her Majesty and Prince Philip were walking around the exhibition, and when they came to a display that was termed “abstract art”, Her Majesty looked at me and asked, “What is that?” I replied, “Your Majesty, you’re probably wiser than me.” We did not have a clue what it was—but it attracted a lot of people to the art gallery.

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When Her Majesty addressed Parliament on 4 May 1977 at the time of her silver jubilee, she said:

“I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which Union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom. A jubilee is also a time to look forward. We should certainly do this with determination, and I believe we can also do so with hope.”

As representatives from Northern Ireland, we, too, cannot forget that she was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We want to take this opportunity to wish Her Majesty a joyous year of jubilee, and many more years yet to come, and to assure her of a warm welcome in our part of the United Kingdom.

Mr Dodds: My hon. Friend refers to Her Majesty’s forthcoming visit to Northern Ireland, and various Members have mentioned visits that the Queen will pay to their constituencies. Those visits are generally known about; they have been publicised and preparations have been made. However, although we must be conscious of the security issues, does my hon. Friend agree that as much notice as possible of Her Majesty’s visits should be given, so that everyone knows about her itinerary and can celebrate?

David Simpson: I entirely agree. We understand that there are security issues, but, in this year, it is important that as much notice as possible is given to the communities that Her Majesty will visit. People want to come out and see her when she visits Northern Ireland, so that they can express their loyalty and the love that they have for her. She has been a unique monarch in many ways. The royal family is sometimes given a hard time by the press, but the Queen has been a wonderful exemplar of the office she holds on behalf of all the people of this United Kingdom.

We are looking forward to welcoming Her Majesty to Northern Ireland. In my constituency, many street parties are planned. We have to put up with so much nonsense, however. I have read in the press that we will have to get approval from the health and safety people before we can put up bannerettes and so forth. Things have gone beyond what is common sense, but the celebrations will happen. I know that celebrations are planned right across the three towns of Lurgan, Portadown and Banbridge that I represent and in other parts of the 200 square miles of my constituency. We are looking forward to having a wonderful time, and we wish Her Majesty well. I note that, as someone mentioned earlier, Queen Victoria is the only monarch who has reigned for longer, but I think Her Majesty will overtake Queen Victoria’s reign. We hope, trust and pray that she does.

I know that my constituents were proud to be part of this United Kingdom when they returned me at the last election. My constituency is the second largest manufacturing base in Northern Ireland outside Belfast. In Northern Ireland questions today, I spoke about the investments that have been made in my constituency, one of which is a £13 million investment at one site in Portadown by Asda. Many other investments are pending and we look forward to good days in Northern Ireland.

I believe there are good days ahead. Yes, we have dissidents who do not seem able to live without the troubles and who just want to drag us back to the bad

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old days, but the Unionist people and others stood fast against the Provisional IRA and won the day, and we will continue to do that. Yes, we have lost a lot of good friends and a lot of people who were tragically taken by the bomb and the bullet, but we want to leave a legacy in Northern Ireland for those people who put on the uniform of the Crown forces. I can say in this House without any contradiction that when it has come to donning the uniform of the Crown forces, our young men and women have never been found wanting. We supported the Crown forces in whatever situation they found themselves in. Tragedy has hit Northern Ireland for many years but we thank God that we are starting to move in the proper direction. Northern Ireland is moving on. It will take a little more time but we have come a long way over a number of years.

Let me end on a more political note. We Unionists would repeat the words that Her Majesty spoke in 1977 and say that this jubilee is perhaps a time to remind ourselves of the benefits of the Union. We hear so much today about Scotland and the referendum, but I believe that the United Kingdom is better as one, with no division. We have heard for many years about legacy—together we stand, divided we fall. I believe that the UK will be better staying as it is today without the nonsense of this referendum and of Scotland being removed from the Union. I do not think the Scottish people want that, but time will tell; we will know when the so-called referendum takes place. I wish Her Majesty well and I congratulate all my colleagues who have spoken. We will continue, to the best of our ability, to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.

4.4 pm

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): I am grateful to have a few moments of the House’s time to make a contribution to the debate, after the interesting and insightful comments we have heard from a number of Members.

It is a privilege to hold my position. With the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), I have already visited the Titanic quarter, and with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I saw the wonderful beauty of Strangford lough. I am looking forward to visiting South Down on Friday.

Dr McCrea: I am sure the hon. Gentleman is also looking forward to visiting the most wonderful constituency of all—South Antrim.

Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman is ahead of me. I was about to say that I was looking forward to visiting all the other constituencies, but I think I shall have to start with the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) who has been persistent in his desire for me to visit his constituency. Now that I have heard about the tea that is available at every stop, I shall make sure to go there. However, there is a serious point. From the visits I have made, it is abundantly clear that Northern Ireland is a place of stunning beauty and offers much to the visitor.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his apology that he would not be in the Chamber to hear my remarks. His point that the life of Frank Carson and his funeral represented all that is good about Northern Ireland was well made.

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Notwithstanding the story about the little sailor, which will stay with many of us for a long time, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) was right to remind us today of all days, when we heard the news about the six soldiers, that we should remember all the victims in Northern Ireland over the last few years.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) is not in the Chamber. He said that we should all—not just the Northern Ireland parties—encourage the broadest participation in these debates. That is important and it is incumbent on me and others to do so. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We should realise that many Members, from Northern Ireland and elsewhere, who wanted to contribute to the debate are actually at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

I do not want to say too much about the economy, although I have made considerable play of it over the past few months because it is extremely important. Indeed, the Secretary of State talked about it in much of his speech. I do not agree with the specifics of the cut in VAT mentioned by the hon. Member for Foyle, but as the Minister of State will know, the Opposition have called for a temporary general cut in VAT to help boost domestic demand, which would help job creation in Northern Ireland.

I congratulate the Democratic Unionist party on securing the debate. It is always good when Northern Ireland matters are discussed on the Floor of the House. I shall concentrate largely on the well chosen title of the debate, which welcomes the NI 2012 campaign to change perceptions of Northern Ireland. The work of Tourism Ireland has helped enormously in that respect.

Many Members recently attended the fantastic event at St James’s palace to launch NI 2012 in Great Britain. It was significant that both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and their colleagues from all parties in the Executive were there to show their support. There was a real mood of optimism at that event, and a spirit not just of hope but of expectation. The progress made in Northern Ireland was noted by every speaker, every performer and every guest. It was no longer a guarded, anxious, whispered aspiration that things would get better, but a confident, proud message shouted aloud that things are better and getting even better, and that Northern Ireland is a great place to live, to work, and in this instance to visit.

That is not to take anything for granted, and no Member who has spoken in the debate has done so or would do so. There is a huge belief in Northern Ireland that things which only a few years ago would have seemed impossible have been and are being done, as we continue to build a peaceful Northern Ireland. The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland and across Ireland and the UK have supported the political process and those who have driven it forward, including many in the House today. I say without fear or favour to hon. Members that it is a privilege to recognise the contribution that they and others in all parts of the House have made to enable us to get to where we are today.

It is the people of Northern Ireland who make it such a great place to visit. Their legendary welcome, their friendliness, their creativity, hard work, pride in their community and willingness to share their beautiful region with visitors are what I have most enjoyed about

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being the shadow Secretary of State. One of the privileges of holding this position is that it enables me, as I said, to visit Northern Ireland regularly and see at first hand the vibrant dynamism of the arts and culture, the spectacular scenery, the historical sites and the wonderful food and drink that make Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone the six must-visit destinations for 2012. As I have promised hon. Members from Northern Ireland, I intend to visit them all myself over the coming months.

But of course we still have to work to challenge the lingering stereotypes and perceptions that many outside Northern Ireland still harbour about the place. The remaining challenges include how we deal with the past and legacy issues, how to maintain security, and of course how to overcome the continuing economic and social problems. I do not see Northern Ireland as a special case; that would be demeaning to Northern Ireland, but there are certainly special circumstances that need to be recognised.

As other hon. Members have said, we are at the beginning of a decade of commemorations that will mark important events in Irish and British history. The motion mentions, of course, the Ulster covenant, which was a response to the third Home Rule Bill which came before the House 100 years ago next month. One cannot help but feel aware of a great sense of history when discussing these matters in the place in which they were debated a century ago, and when thinking of the great figures who took part in those debates and are remembered as giants of Parliament, politics and state.

I know that there are many differing perspectives on the history of that period, but ultimately that history is a shared one, so we can choose to use the different perspectives of it to entrench division, or we can use them to learn about history, ourselves and each other, bring communities together in a new understanding of what happened in that decade, and perhaps create some fresh perspectives which will help to bring about a better future in the decade ahead. I know that is the wish of the vast majority of people in these islands, and of all Members in this place.

We also mark this year the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. As the House heard earlier, during the 60 years of her reign she has displayed tremendous service, great dignity, selflessness and a dedication to all of the people of the United Kingdom, including those in Northern Ireland. Her visit to Ireland last year was truly remarkable. It opened up not just a new chapter, but a new volume in British-Irish relations. I join others who have done so today in paying tribute to her today, and I know that we all look forward to her visits to Northern Ireland throughout this year.

In 2012, this year of centenaries and jubilees, we celebrate all that is good about Northern Ireland. NI 2012 gives us the chance to showcase all that is good about Northern Ireland and indeed the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland is open for business, investment and tourism, not just this year but next year, with the city of culture in Derry-Londonderry and the world police and fire games, and beyond.

As an English MP, one of the questions I am most often asked by colleagues, friends and constituents is what Northern Ireland is like. I can confidently say to

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them now, as other hon. Members have done, to go and see for themselves. It is often said that perception is reality. The reality is that Northern Ireland is a great place, a changed place, and a place that wants people to come and visit it. I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we will do our very best to ensure that that becomes the perception as well. I say to everyone that it is time to put Northern Ireland firmly on the global map.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I now have to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion relating to the safety of offshore oil and gas activities, the Ayes were 308 and the Noes were 183, so the Question was agreed to.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

4.15 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): On what is a sad day, 2012 promises to be an action-filled year. The SDLP welcomes the progress that has been made in the north of Ireland over the past 10 to 15 years, of which we were very much part. We shaped the character of that progress and its development. In fact, we were particularly innovative in the political developments.

There has been much to celebrate in Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to our sporting heroes right across the sporting arena, whether in rugby, athletics, golf or the Gaelic Athletic Association. There is much there, and we must not forget that we are talking about a shared and inclusive society. There is much to celebrate in the film industry. Only two weeks ago a person from Northern Ireland won an Oscar for “The Shore.” Only last year the same director produced a film in Downpatrick, in my constituency, called “Whole Lotta Sole”, which will have its debut later this year. That film was centred on a fish and chip shop, but it was not necessarily about fish. In fact, it might have had more to do with the political turmoil out of which we have emerged.

There has been considerable movement away from violence and conflict and towards a more peaceful and harmonious society. We are all very glad about that and want to see the institutions that emerged out of the Good Friday agreement and the principles that were laid down in the agreement fully realised. Therefore, we believe that the institutions should be fully functional, that the Northern Ireland Executive should have a detailed programme for government and a full programme of legislation and that the North/South Ministerial Council must become fully operational. We also believe that it should be cross-sectoral in its approach, by which we mean that it should have a north-west focus, which my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) would welcome, and a south-east focus, which would accommodate the interests of my constituency of South Down and those of north County Louth. We want more north-south bodies to be created, for the review of the north-south dimension to be published and for the Irish identity to be not only recognised and acknowledged, but given political weight.

That brings me to the motion. We welcome the fact that the Northern Ireland 2012 campaign is intended to change perceptions of Northern Ireland and encourage

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many more visitors. We want people to see the beauty of Northern Ireland, the scenery and the attributes of the people, which are already demonstrated through their inventions and sporting prowess and in many other fields. However, I am a bit afraid and will be looking to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) to clarify some points for me, because it could be construed that the motion—how shall I say this?—focuses on a single identity and is one-track or single-dimensional, because it contains no reference to an Irish identity or Irish nationalism, which is also very much part of the north of Ireland and is represented in this House by the three SDLP Members.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The events of 2012 are the events of 2012: there is the centenary of the Titanic, the centenary of the Ulster covenant and the Queen’s diamond jubilee. So the motion, and its writer, did not dictate those dates, but does the hon. Lady agree that all those events, given that they will improve and provide opportunities to add to economic activity in Northern Ireland and can be enjoyed by all, should be seen not as single-identity events but as something that can unite all the people in Northern Ireland, who will be able to enjoy them and, indeed, benefit from them economically?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I say to all Members present that it is important that we look to all events and at all the attributes of the people of Northern Ireland. It is not enough simply to look through the narrow prism of one identity, but this motion could be construed as such, and I say that more in sorrow than in anger, and more with regret than anything else.

So I look to the right hon. Member for Belfast North—

Mr Dodds rose

Ms Ritchie: In his winding-up speech—

Mr Dodds: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Ritchie: Not at this particular stage.

Mr Dodds: Oh.

Ms Ritchie: But I will be quite happy to give way a little later, when I have progressed with my contribution.

The motion underpins a Unionist agenda, it honours the foundation of a Northern Ireland state, and there is no recognition of my identity and where I come from. A growing proportion of those who reside in Northern Ireland are Irish, hold Irish passports, support the south of Ireland’s soccer team, support and participate in football and hurling, as part of the Gaelic Athletic Association, and speak the Irish language. That is part of our ethnicity and background.

I am not denigrating the views or the identity of others; I am saying that there must be parity of esteem, respect for both traditions on the island, and that when we are talking about the north of Ireland, or Northern Ireland, we should take into account everybody’s attributes. That is what moving forward means and what the new

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political institutions are all about: they are about moving forward together. I am quite happy to give way now to the right hon. Gentleman, who I hope will be able to elucidate that issue.

Mr Dodds: In an intervention, I shall not be able to do what the hon. Lady invites me to do, as I am conscious of Mr Deputy Speaker, but if she feels so strongly about the issue, why in the amendment to which her name is attached is there no mention of any issues to which she has referred or of any aspects that she has just discussed? Why, if she feels so strongly, did she not table such an amendment?

Mark Durkan: The singular references.

Mr Dodds: You are relying on the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for the answer.

Ms Ritchie: No, I would know the answer anyway; I do not need anybody to tell me.

The right hon. Gentleman can, however, see what we have clearly done. We have concentrated on the practical politics that needs to be concentrated on, namely a reduction in VAT on tourism, because our tourism industry is being undermined. The amendment would also delete the partisan elements of the motion.

Mr Dodds: Disgraceful.

Ms Ritchie: Absolutely not. It is our duty as public representatives to try to heal divisions.

Dr McCrea: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Ritchie: No, I will not.

The political institutions that emerged from the Good Friday agreement were based on respect for political difference and identity, and around the three sets of relationships. There is no reference in the motion to that, to inclusion, to respect for political difference, or to the development of the shared society, to which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already referred.

For me, as the Member for South Down, this is also a Belfast-centred motion. I represent a constituency that holds two of Northern Ireland’s signature tourism projects—the Mourne mountains and St Patrick’s country. We in the SDLP want to ensure—hence our amendment—that where tourism is central to our economy, it is allowed to grow and prosper, because it is one of the major drivers of the economy. The tourism and hospitality sectors will be better placed to contribute to growth and employment if supported by targeted reductions in VAT, as permitted under EU rules. We call on the Chancellor to consider such timely concessions in the forthcoming Budget on 21 March.

There is little doubt that the outstanding character and assets of my constituency’s tourism offering are unsurpassed. In this month of St Patrick, I ask all hon. Members, as I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), to come and walk in the footsteps of Patrick. Contrary to the real spirit of this motion, Patrick was, and remains for us, the epitome of unity and diversity. [ Interruption. ] Patrick belonged to everybody. Patrick was head and shoulders above everybody else. We celebrate unity and diversity on 17 March. We celebrate the person who is the epitome of unity and

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diversity, and a symbol of partnership and inclusion, and we reject and resist calls for the domination of one form of nationalism over another.

I make those comments in order to highlight the fact that Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland have much to offer, but we have come from one place to another, and we must move ahead in terms of parity of esteem by respecting political traditions and respecting each other. This is not about a narrow form of nationalism; it is about a broader form of nationalism that embraces everybody on the island, both Unionist and nationalist. Only last year, I was very happy to be in Dublin to meet the Queen, and I met her on two separate occasions. [ Interruption. ] Despite the comments that have been made from a sedentary position by those on the DUP Bench behind me, I want, like my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, to place that on the record. We should always be very conscious of where we come from and do everything in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland and the best interests of all the people of Ireland.

4.27 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I should like to associate myself with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and others in the Chamber about the six soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan. Last year I went to Afghanistan twice, and on one of those occasions, I was in Lashkar Gah, where it seems that the six soldiers lost their lives. One could not fail to be impressed by the courage, dedication and sacrifice of our soldiers. I suspect that many, if not all, of those in this Chamber pray for our soldiers every day, as I do before I start my work.

It is with great pleasure that I support the motion. I talked to my right hon. Friend about it beforehand, and one cannot fail to get excited about it. Unlike the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), I feel that it says all the good things about Northern Ireland and epitomises all the issues. It is exciting to have a proposal that promotes the whole of Northern Ireland, brings together all elements of political opinion, and ensures that we have something that we can all support. That is surely why people will, I hope, be flocking to our shores very shortly.

I am unashamed to promote my beautiful constituency. Other Members say that their constituency is the best, and that may be their opinion, but that is said of my constituency by people who do not represent Strangford. When the shadow Secretary of State was in my constituency, he said, “Jim, this is the most beautiful constituency that I have ever seen.”

Vernon Coaker: After my own.

Jim Shannon: That puts me in second place, but first place in Northern Ireland.