HC Deb 02 December 2002 vol 395 cc627-72 4.27 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

I beg to move, That this House notes the continuing terrorist activities of the IRA; does not consider its representatives fit to participate in the government of part of the United Kingdom; deplores attempts to undermine further the integrity of policing in Northern Ireland by granting more concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA; and opposes offering non-elected convicted terrorists places on district policing partnerships. What I say about IRA terrorism can be applied equally to terrorism committed by so-called loyalists. I have been on the receiving end of the acts of such terrorists for a long time in their publications, and their attacks on property have included my property. My church manse was bombed, bullets were shot through my bedroom window and other attempts have been made on my life, not by the IRA—although it has made attempts on my life—hut by loyalists. I want to make it clear, therefore, that although the motion condemns the IRA and does not deal with loyalist terrorism, I apply the same condemnation to those terrorists.

The motion before the House is different. It deals not with terrorists, per se, but with terrorists who are given a place in the government of part of the United Kingdom.

It is indeed vital that the House discuss this matter because IRA-Sinn Fein continue to engage in a cycle of violence. Everyone in the House knows that. Everyone in the House should be seriously concerned about the targeting, training and recruiting business and the complete disregard of all calls for the disbandment of—

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I should like to make a little progress. The Democratic Unionist party initiated the debate, but other Members will be able to speak. If the hon. Lady has put her name down, I am sure that the Chair will call her. I ask her please to give me a little more time so that I can get into my speech.

The notion is that Sinn Fein-IRA are on ceasefire and that the House should congratulate them on that. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and I utterly deplore the reference in the Government amendment to the enormous strides towards a more peaceful society in Northern Ireland", because we could visit some people who certainly would not think that there had been any peaceful strides.

I attended a meeting with the Prime Minister and the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), at which the Prime Minister tried to sell me the colossal falsehood that we were at peace in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, I had with me a copy of a certain document. I did not show it to the Prime Minister but I read him some facts from it. I told him that bombings in Northern Ireland over the previous 12 months had increased by 80 per cent. I told him that shootings had trebled since the agreement and that unsolved crimes had reached a new high. In Londonderry, the IRA shot a bus driver while he was driving a group of pensioners.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I realise that the hon. Gentleman did not show his document to the Prime Minister, but, as he is now quoting extensively from it, will he make it available in the Library?

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Library already has a copy and—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The point of order was addressed to the Chair. I advise the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) that the matter is entirely up to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley).

Rev. Ian Paisley

If the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) can hold on for a while he may find the end of my story quite amusing.

I told the Prime Minister that the IRA beat up a young man in south Armagh, leaving him with injuries that doctors told us were the worst they had seen throughout all the troubles. Violence has increased since the agreement.

Between 1995 and 1998, there were 450 shootings, but between 1999 and 2002 there were 820. Between 1995 and 1998, there were 123 bombings, but between 1999 and 2002 there were 561. The number of bombing devices used between 1995 and 1998 was 156, but between 1999 and 2002 it was 699. The increase in violence has taken a quantum leap.

The former Secretary of State looked at the Prime Minister and told me that he did not think that my figures were correct. I was glad that I had not shown them the document from which I was quoting although I had it with me. I have it with me today. What is the document? The Secretary of State commended it himself: it is the annual report of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I handed the Secretary of State a copy and told him: "You are trying to undermine your own figures because they do not suit you."

That was scandalous, yet the motion asks us to say that everything is wonderful. In fact, everything is far from wonderful. I was in the Minster of State's office last Monday, and she handed me three documents. The first was a draft clauses document containing amendments to a future police Bill. She said, "This is a Government document, this is our thinking." The second document was entitled "Text for consideration", and she said, "This is not a Government document; these are the matters that IRA-Sinn Fein want dealt with, and we are issuing them so that people can have a look at them."

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I said that it was a Government document, containing suggestions for Government amendments that we might table to a police Bill, subject to conditions that he knows and that we discussed at the time.

Rev. Ian Paisley

There is not much difference between that and what I said. In fact, I said it to the Secretary of State and asked a civil servant to confirm that it was what I said. I do not want to misrepresent the Minister one iota. I want to get to the truth of the matter and help the people who have been terrorised in Northern Ireland.

The third document was a police review announcement. It said: We are not persuaded that the time is right to introduce changes in these areas. In particular, the removal of the disqualification of ex-prisoners could, in our view, happen only in the context of acts of completion such as those envisaged by the Prime Minister in his speech in Belfast". I asked the Minister what that meant, but we could not determine what it meant—she could not tell us. I cannot blame her, because the next day we met her boss, the new Secretary of State, and asked him the same thing: we said, "Will you explain to us ignorant folk from Belfast what this means?", but he could not explain it.

On Wednesday, I went to a still higher authority and said: The Prime Minister is aware that in the past two days my party has met the Minister with responsibility for security in Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We put one question to both: what is an act of completion? Does it consist of IRA-Sinn Fein repudiating and ceasing violence and being disbanded, or does it simply mean that they can make a statement that they will give up violence? Can the Prime Minister tell us what he believes it means? The Prime Minister said: I can. It is not merely a statement, a declaration of words. It means giving up violence completely in a way that satisfies everyone"— I take it that I am one of the everyones in the House and elsewhere, and that all the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland are included— and gives them confidence that the IRA has ceased its campaign, and enables us to move the democratic process forward, with every party that wants to be in government abiding by the same democratic rules."—[Official Report, 27 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 309.] One would think that that statement was plain enough, but I am afraid that we must again ask the Minister to tell us exactly what she means.

We have had very strong statements from the Prime Minister before—some of them written on a wall during the referendum campaign and some in Hansard—but when it came to it the strong words were forgotten. The Prime said in the House that we want the total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations…Meanwhile, it would obviously be a travesty of democracy if parties associated with paramilitary organisations held Executive office in the assembly while they continued to be engaged in or threaten terrorism."…[Official Report, 22 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 811.] We all know that the IRA has threatened violence. We see the IRA committing acts of violence every day. It was put into the Executive, although the Prime Minister gave us the assurance that it would not be and that it would be "a travesty of democracy"—so it is—to allow those who lead a terrorist organisation to be in government in any part of this country.

Again, in the House, the Prime Minister said: I have also always made it clear that we regard Sinn Fein and the IRA as inextricably linked.—[Official Report, 3 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 366.] If they are inextricably linked, how can they be divided? Those are not my statements; the Prime Minister made them. He told us then that no IRA-Sinn Feiner would be in the Executive. He also went further, for when they got into the Executive he made it clear that they would be put out if they did not keep to their ceasefire, yet when the ceasefires were violated they were not put out.

In fact, what we have is a long document issued by the Government. I accept that it is still a Government document, but that makes it even worse in my opinion because it is to do with concessions and buying off the IRA. The Prime Minister needs to tell us in Northern Ireland what he really means to do. Of course we can hear and see many things, and the way the wind is blowing is interesting.

No one has voiced his views more strongly than the leader of the official Unionist party. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) told us recently that those people could not get back into government until the IRA was disbanded, but he evidently changed his mind last night and our morning papers say today that he indicated that practical measures like decommissioning weapons and ending paramilitary activity would be sufficient to get those people back into government. We have another fudge, after many fudges, falsehoods and pledges from the leader of the official Unionist party, so what is going to happen?

If anyone in the House thinks that the IRA will go away, they should disabuse themselves of that notion immediately. It is updating its weapons. Today is a good day to debate the matter, as three of its members are on trial in Colombia. When they were captured, however, we were told that they were not IRA men but tourists, even though they had forged passports. What tourist goes abroad on a forged passport? We were told that one of them did not represent the IRA in Cuba; subsequently, it was discovered that he did. Leading IRA men, including prominent ones, flew out to see them. What were they going to do? Were they going to have their first meeting? No, they were going to greet their brothers in terror and give them their support. A worldwide campaign has now been launched by IRA-Sinn Fein to say that the courts in Colombia cannot give them justice, that the whole thing is rigged and that they will not attend the courts. How like their approach to Northern Ireland—and that is a part of the United Kingdom!

IRA-Sinn Fein sent their top representatives to the FARC-controlled jungles in south America. Everybody knows that. It also rearmed from Russia and Florida. Only the other day, guns of the most modern making, which had never been seen previously, were discovered, and arrests were made of those who had them in their possession. Leading people were telling us, however, that nothing had happened with regard to Florida. Leading political, judicial, security, forensic and loyalist figures are now being targeted using intelligence data files. The House should be aware of the terror of mothers and children when their husbands and fathers leave home in the morning to go to their place of business, because their security files, containing all their details, are in the possession of the IRA. That is a most serious matter. I have every sympathy with the men who have run the prisons of Northern Ireland over a vast number of years—some of whose colleagues have been shot, brutally treated and murdered—who do not seem to be getting the support from the Northern Ireland Office that they should be getting at present.

A major line of inquiry has been identified in relation to the break-in at special branch headquarters in Castlereagh. Weapons have been smuggled from Florida for the purpose of upgrading the stockpile. About a dozen individuals have been murdered in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast agreement in April 1998. A role as judge and jury in the community has been adopted consistently in the form of beatings, shootings and other forms of intimidation. Orchestrated, organised violence in east and north Belfast has culminated in the shooting of five Protestants in the east of the city. Most recently, information has been stolen from the Northern Ireland Office and from Stormont; the chief administrator has been charged, he has not been allowed bail, and he is awaiting his trial. That is the track record of IRA-Sinn Fein. Is not that the action of people who are not fit for Government? Is it not also a condemnation of the fact that, at this very moment, the Government are discussing with IRA-Sinn Fein the possibility of putting on to the police boards people who are not elected members but have criminal records and have served prison sentences because of their IRA activities? Think about that: it is happening as I speak.

Another change represents a major concession. An almost semi-parallel police board will meet in north Belfast. It will have different powers from the boards that meet elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Part of Belfast will be under the control of a board that, if it is constituted in the way that is proposed, will be controlled by IRA-Sinn Fein. It will control the policing of west Belfast and part of north Belfast.

We are in a very serious situation. In the days of conflict, we had the police to rely on and could also rely on those who kept their word with regard to what they said the police would do. I know that charges have been made against members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the same way as charges have been made and proved against members of the British Army, but one does not condemn a whole force because of rotten apples in the barrel.

The constitution of the policing board is another important matter. I was greatly struck by remarks that the Secretary of State made last week. He published an article in The Irish News about the new police proposals. He said that policing would not finally be complete until the day that they—the IRA republicans—include themselves. We are now shut into a policy that means that we will not have full policing until the IRA is included. That notion is obnoxious to the people who have suffered and to the very principles of democracy.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the recent unanimous resolution of the Ulster Unionist Council on the proposals for the police boards? If unelected terrorists are put on to the district policing partnerships, the Ulster Unionist party's representation on the policing board will be placed under serious question. Will he unite with the Ulster Unionist party in withdrawing from that board?

Rev. Ian Paisley

In a speech, I made public what we would do. We would be out and, this time, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's party would follow us and take immediate action. I was about to develop that point in my speech.

When we were called in by the former Secretary of State and asked whether we would put our representatives on the policing board, I said, "We could consider that provided you aren't going to make a deal afterwards with IRA-Sinn Fein and bring them in by the back door." He said to us, "If you don't join the policing board now"—it was the last day on which we could join—"you will not be on it until there is an election." I said, "Thank you, but answer this question. If the IRA don't join it, will it have to wait for an election before it gets on the board?" He said, "That is right." However, that is not what is being negotiated now. We were brought in under false pretences. We were given a promise on which the IRA has not delivered and is not going to deliver. I say unequivocally that it will drive real Unionists out of the policing board. Perhaps that is what it wants to do.

Helen Jackson

I respect the hon. Gentleman's party and his leadership of it. In what circumstances can the membership of the district policing boards include people who may have been in paramilitary organisations and are genuinely moving into politics for the future? Are there circumstances in which that is possible, or is it a case of "No. Never"?

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is "No. Never." Those people are not elected. They do not even have the support of others who are elected. The hon. Lady's Government promised us that the arrangements would work in a specific way, but they have gone back on their promise. In the Secretary of State's words, policing will not be complete until republicans are included on the board—but at what price? That is what the people of Northern Ireland want to know. They do not want the Government to issue the document. Instead, they want them to tell us frankly what concessions they made under the first document and what concessions they are likely to make under the second document.

I am sorry that I have taken longer than I expected, but the matter goes to the root of our problem in Northern Ireland. We need proper policing. Unless people in all communities can go to bed at night knowing that they will not be attacked and, if they are attacked, that they will be protected, we will not have peace in Northern Ireland. Let us not have more whitewash of the IRA. Let us no longer tell people that quantum leaps have been taken on security, because it is not so. The Minister knows that. The facts surrounding the policing board also show that to be the case.

Hon. Members need to pay attention to the problem. What would be their attitude if they had the same problem in their cities and constituencies? They should not be so quick to condemn Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, every one of whom lives under a threat. We have all been threatened. Many of us have been shot at and many of us are visited continually by people who say, "Mind your step." What can an individual do to mind his step in this situation? Hon. Members should ask themselves, "Would I like that to happen to my constituents?"

I salute the Roman Catholic people, especially those in my constituency, who have joined the new police service. We know what happened to one of the first who joined: the IRA attempted to blow him to smithereens outside his house. The IRA circulates the district with its literature that says, "Treat the new police service as you treated the RUC." What place has a party that does that in properly policing any civilised democratic community?

4.59 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the enormous strides towards a more peaceful society in Northern Ireland and the significant developments in policing that have been achieved in recent years; further welcomes the changes to policing proposed in the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill; in particular endorses the Government's view that the time is not yet right to allow unelected ex-prisoners to serve on district policing partnerships; and further welcomes the Government's openness in sharing with this House and the people of Northern Ireland its thinking on how this might be achieved in the future, in the context of acts of completion on the part of paramilitaries.". My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland regrets that he is unable to be here to take part in the debate. He is engaged on business in America; otherwise he would certainly have been here to respond to the points made forcefully by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). The hon. Gentleman's position, and that of his party, on these issues is well known and has been understood for many years. He articulates a point of view that has resonance in Northern Ireland, and I acknowledge that from the outset.

I shall begin by reflecting on the changes in Northern Ireland in recent years. We have come a long way. Before the Belfast agreement, which I know the hon. Gentleman does not hold with, the people of Northern Ireland had endured 30 years of what were euphemistically called "the troubles". There were thousands of deaths, and thousands more lives were torn apart by the violence, sectarianism and community divisions that the hon. Gentleman articulately described. Yet after all that it was possible to reach an agreement about how to shape a better future—one in which former enemies could work together in partnership, in communities and in government. People from all sections of the community could put aside the intransigence and hatred of the past, and co-operate.

Such a transformation required great leaps of faith from the people of Northern Ireland, and particularly, perhaps, from its political leaders. No one said that it would be easy, and the hon. Gentleman has described just how difficult it has been. I say to him, his party and the House that, as security Minister, I know better than almost anyone else in Government what the security difficulties have been. However, he says that things are as bad as they have ever been, and I suggest that that is not true.

This year, 10 people have lost their lives as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland. That is 10 deaths too many and those lives were lost unnecessarily. If I were a relative of any of those individuals, I would feel precisely the bitterness and grief described by the hon. Gentleman. However, if we go back 30 years, we find that 470 people lost their lives in one year alone. The number of people who die as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically decreased, and that ought to be taken into account when we consider the difficult issues that face us in our attempt to maintain momentum in developing a more peaceful society.

Although no one said that it would be easy, we believed that it would not be impossible. As the Prime Minister said on 17 October: it was a brave undertaking and a vast one. It has taken courage and vision. Some of the steps have indeed been difficult, but there have been difficulties for all sides. The important point is that, despite those difficulties, there has been progress, and Northern Ireland today is a better, more peaceful place than it was before the agreement. It is not nirvana, and there is a long way to go, but it is a vast improvement on the situation that existed decades ago. Transformations can be slow but they do happen.

The same is true of policing. I shall develop the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman and answer some of his points. As the Belfast agreement made clear, it is essential that the policing structures and arrangements are such that the Police Service is professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, free from partisan political control, accountable both under the law for its actions and to the community that it serves and representative of the society that it polices. The hon. Gentleman will argue that the service has been professional, effective and efficient, fair and impartial, and I agree with much of what he says, but the Police Service's structures and arrangements—its accountability arrangements and representative nature—must be capable of gaining support throughout the whole community of Northern Ireland if it is to maintain law and order, including responding effectively to crime and to any terrorist threat or public order problem. A police service that cannot do so will fail to win public confidence and acceptance.

Patten was clear about the scale of the challenge and the need to provide a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland. That will take time and it will not be easy, but huge progress has already been made. I suspect that if we had said five years ago that we would one day have a policing board operating on a cross-community basis, or that 50 per cent. of recruits to the police would be Catholic, most people would not have believed us, yet that has been achieved. Even when the policing board was set up, there were those who expected it to fail. There were those who did not expect the board to be able to resolve the question of the badge or the uniforms—but it did. There were those who said that the board would never be able to agree on a new Chief Constable—but, again, it did. There were those who said that the board would not be able to agree a recommendation on the future of the full-time reserve—but it did.

The hon. Member for North Antrim might argue that all those measures are unnecessary concessions to Sinn Fein and republicans, but I believe that they are a necessary part of the reforms to policing in Northern Ireland that will enable cross-community support to develop, grow and strengthen. Since its first meeting just over a year ago, the policing board has quickly established itself as a powerful and credible organisation with a clear interest in holding the police to account and ensuring effective policing of the whole of Northern Ireland. Despite the enormity of the challenge facing them, board members have collectively shown themselves to be committed to creating the new beginning for policing envisaged by the agreement. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the board members, including the representatives of the Democratic Unionist party, for their commitment and the dedication that they have shown to their duties.

The changes have not only affected the accountability structures for policing; the Police Service itself has undergone a series of significant changes. The determination of the service, from its leadership through the rank and file to the new recruits, to deliver the changes envisaged by Patten has been impressive. Collectively, the police have shown that it is possible to move forward, to create the new beginning and to forge new relationships with all sections of the community. That is the future for policing in Northern Ireland. It is a future grounded in effective policing, with a police service carrying out its professional remit without fear or favour.

The results of current policing arrangements are tangible. In recent months, much of the sectarian violence at interfaces in north and east Belfast—I see the hon. Members who represent those constituencies in their seats—has been nullified through good police tactics, which have also yielded 124 persons charged. I acknowledge that that has come at a cost—437 police officers have been injured as a result of the violence at interfaces—but we should acknowledge the good, professional and capable work that the police have been doing to reduce the effects of that violence.

Such successes in policing are not limited to the violence on our streets. The House might like to know that, since September, 24 loyalists and 11 republicans have been charged under the Terrorism Act 2000. Hon. Members who attack the arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland should consider that that has a knock-on effect, whether intended or not, on each and every police officer. Again and again, it brings policing into the political domain, which is not helpful for effective policing. The hon. Member for North Antrim would be quick to acknowledge that, over the past 30 years, many of those officers have faced some hideous challenges. They have lost their colleagues to terrorist attacks. They have themselves been wounded and scarred and seen their families threatened.

Of course, their work today could never be described as easy. Policing in any community is a difficult challenge, but policing in Northern Ireland is a particularly difficult challenge. The individuals who provide that public service deserve our support and gratitude. I know that they have the support and gratitude of the hon. Gentleman, his party and the Ulster Unionist party, but they deserve the support and gratitude of all parties in Northern Ireland. They have gained the support of the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland and deserve Sinn Fein's support.

I agree with the Democratic Unionist motion in one respect—the implicit importance that it attaches to district policing partnerships. I should like to make that importance explicit. The Patten report was clear about the role of district policing partnership boards, and said: The function of the DPPBs should he advisory, explanatory and consultative. The Boards should represent the consumer, voice the concerns of citizens and monitor the performance of the police in their districts. Like the Policing Board, the DPPBs should be encouraged to see policing in its widest sense, involving and consulting non-governmental organisations and community groups concerned with safety issues as well as statutory agencies. The district policing partnerships will play a vital role as a bridge between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the local community. I pay tribute to the role of the Northern Ireland Policing Board for working towards the establishment of district policing partnerships. I know that that process is well advanced—all the district councils have selected political members, and the first interviews for independent members have been held. Indeed, they were held in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Antrim. I understand that the district policing partnerships should be in a position to have their first meetings in February. I do not underestimate the impact that that will have on local communities. Councillors will be associated with a major new role, and I know they will play their part very conscientiously.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Has the hon. Lady forgotten that elected representatives on councils in Northern Ireland served on police boards and advisory boards in all council areas, and made a contribution that way?

Jane Kennedy

Not at all, I have not forgotten. I am grateful for the contribution of councillors, but the new district policing partnerships will take on new responsibilities and will play an important role in developing an immediate focus and feedback between local communities and district commanders as they develop community policing in a style in which, we all hope, it can grow and flourish in Northern Ireland. I have not forgotten the contribution that has been made in the past.

I am glad to note that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is continuing to develop the role of district command units and, in that regard, I have just referred to the role of the district commander and district policing partnerships. The service published a policy document on policing with the community last year, and an implementation plan is now being finalised for wider distribution in the very near future. It is timely, therefore, that one of the amendments to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 in the forthcoming legislation will reinforce the importance of policing with the community as a core policing principle.

Let me consider the forthcoming policing measure. The motion is somewhat puzzling. More than a year has passed since the Government published the revised Patten implementation plan in August 2001. In it, we made a series of commitments to legislative change. The Government's aim is to develop a modern police service that is effective and widely accepted throughout the society that it serves. The changes for which the draft clauses provide will achieve that.

Some hon. Members' reactions to last week's statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State disappointed me, but it would not be the first time that I had been disappointed in my life in politics. The draft clauses that we published last week contained little that was new. They focused on the commitments in the revised implementation plan and some specific points that were included at the request of the board, on which the Democratic Unionist party has three seats, in the context of the recent review of policing arrangements. All the issues were discussed in the context of the policing review. Again, I pay tribute to all those who contributed to the review, including the DUP.

The substance of the announcement was therefore yesterday's news. It simply set out the way in which the Government intended to deal with the commitments in legislative terms. Some hon. Members have tried to focus attention on the additional text for consideration that was published with the draft clauses. The hon. Member for North Antrim drew specific attention to it. Although I am the first to recognise that some of the issues are sensitive for many people in Northern Ireland, especially the question of whether former prisoners should be allowed to apply for appointments on district policing partnerships—there are different views throughout the House on the subject—its consideration is yesterday's news or even older.

Lady Hermon (North Down)

I appreciate that the Government are wedded to implementing the Patten report in full. Can the Minister pinpoint the recommendation in Patten for convicted terrorists to sit on district policing partnerships?

Jane Kennedy

We undertook to review the question as a subject that emerged from the discussions at Weston Park. We published our intentions in August 2001.

In publishing two separate texts, we tried to be clear and open to the House and to the people of Northern Ireland on the way in which we would take the matter forward. My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that we would do that only in the context of the acts of completion that we discussed last week and that the hon. Member for North Antrim debated with the Prime Minister.

David Burnside

I thank the Minister for confirming through her lack of response to my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that the recommendation was not in the Patten report. Will she also confirm that there was no agreement with the Ulster Unionist party on those proposals at Weston Park?

Jane Kennedy

We made commitments at Weston Park and we believe that it is essential that we honour them if we are to fulfil our aim of developing a police service in Northern Ireland that is effective, efficient and widely accepted by all the communities.

David Burnside

All except the Ulster Unionists.

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make his point later. I appreciate—

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)


Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)


Jane Kennedy

Let me make the point that I appreciate the sensitivity of the issues for many in Northern Ireland. That applies especially to the question of the former prisoners. I am sure that we will debate it at length because it is such a matter of principle. However, the proposal is not new. In publishing two separate texts, we sought to draw the sting from the argument and avoid the accusation that we were doing a secret deal and planning to act secretly and in private. The proposal is published and hon. Members can read the way in which we would deal with the matter in the right circumstances.

Mr. Hunter

With respect, this is not just a matter for the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) to mention in his speech. Do the Government accept that the Ulster Unionist party agreed to the proposition that they are putting forward? What is the Government's understanding of the UUP's position?

Jane Kennedy

I think that the UUP will make its position clear.

Mr. Swire

Will the hon. Lady assure the House that there were no discussions at Weston Park that could lead to the possibility of an amnesty for prisoners on the run, or of that category of people being allowed to serve on policing boards in future?

Jane Kennedy

No, there were not, and if the hon. Gentleman reads the implementation plan, he will see that we also undertook to examine how we might resolve this issue. Everything that we have published in the recent draft clauses and in the text for consideration has grown out of that implementation plan. He will have noted that there is nothing in those texts that deals with those deemed to be on the run; that is a separate issue, which we are discussing and considering separately.

During the passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 my noble Friend Lord Falconer made it clear in defending the current bar on ex-prisoners joining the district policing partnerships that it was the Government's hope that the sensitivities surrounding this issue would eventually subside. Clearly, that is not the case at the moment, but we will discuss the issue at length as we debate the legislation.

Lady Hermon

As regards timing, it ill behoves the Government to table this amendment at this time, given that we have just had a series of very serious breaches of security, relating to the jurisdiction not only of Colombia but of the Republic of Ireland, and to Castlereagh, as well as the discovery of a serious spy ring at the heart of government in the Northern Ireland Office. Given that series of events, this is not the right time to introduce these proposals.

Jane Kennedy

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. When we discussed these issues at Weston Park, we committed to considering this matter. Our consideration has covered both how the issues might be dealt with and whether the time is right to do so, which is the point that she has just made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not yet persuaded that the time is right to introduce changes in these areas, and it is precisely for that reason that we have published the text separately. We have draft clauses that we hope will form the basis of a Bill, and separate texts that we may consider taking forward. We are not, however, going to take them forward at this time.

Mr. McCabe

Will my hon. Friend explain how it can be tolerable for an ex-prisoner who renounces violence to stand for, and be elected to, the Assembly—and, perhaps, at some point, be responsible for policing in Northern Ireland—when it can never be tolerable for such a person to sit on a district policing partnership?

Jane Kennedy

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, no less, made it clear that the concept of Sinn Fein or of former republican prisoners participating in policing while maintaining a private army was absurd. We could not be clearer than that. It is within that context that we are having this debate, notwithstanding all the sensitivities that it causes to arise.

Helen Jackson

This is the crux of the matter. Will the Minister accept that the tabling of this motion puts the onus back on to members of Sinn Fein to include themselves—in the words of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in reply to my earlier intervention—and to take the crucial final steps towards moving into politics?

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I correct what the hon. Lady has said? At that stage, I was quoting the Secretary of State and those were not my words, but his. I made that absolutely clear. I do not want her to put the Secretary of State's words in my mouth. I shall talk to her outside the Door and tell her why, if she wants to know.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has answered the point.

Jane Kennedy

Moving swiftly on, an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph last week said when the guns have been silenced for good, anything is possible. The political scene in Northern Ireland has already changed almost beyond recognition, and our predecessors in the House may not have believed that much of what has happened would be possible. Having seen so much change, I believe that the House needs to retain an open mind about what may be possible in future. Just because something seems unlikely to any of us as individuals does not mean that it is impossible. We narrow our horizons and limit society's scope for development and progress if we close our minds to such possibilities.

With that in mind, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I concluded that it would be right to show the republican movement in particular, but also the rest of society in Northern Ireland, how we might seek to achieve legislative change in future, in the context of the acts of completion envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Custom house in Belfast in October.

By publishing the texts in such a way, we can be completely open and transparent with the House and with the people of Northern Ireland. We can open up the debate to focus on what checks and balances would be needed to ensure that those changes could take effect without undue risk to policing. These are not easy issues, and without substantive debate with the elected representatives sitting in the House and more generally, we cannot be sure of having explored every avenue and having put in place all the necessary checks.

Only those who fear the change to a truly peaceful and democratic future for Northern Ireland have anything to lose from that debate taking place openly, for, in the current climate, those clauses remain hypothetical proposals. The basis on which they could become reality relates to the context of acts of completion in a situation where the men of violence have turned their back on the past in such a way as to give everyone satisfaction and confidence, as the hon. Member for North Antrim said in respect of his reply from the Prime Minister.

It may be, of course, that such a day never comes, but the people of Northern Ireland have achieved so much in the past few years that pessimism is misplaced and optimism about the future essential. That does not mean that we should either be foolhardy or ignore the risks, but it does mean that we should not shut the door to the possibilities. Therefore, I believe strongly that it is important for the debate on the text to take place.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues today; I know that we shall have many more opportunities in the weeks and months ahead. I hope that the hon. Member for North Antrim accepts that we discount neither the views that he expresses nor, indeed, the views of any of those in his party. We acknowledge the position that they take, and they are perfectly entitled to hold such a view.

I hope that hon. Members take the opportunity to focus on the substance of the proposals rather than use them simply for political point scoring. The hon. Member for North Antrim should not assume that only Northern Ireland Members have an interest in those matters. He well knows that Members representing seats in England and Wales have constituents who were directly affected by the violence of the past. It matters to us all that these big issues are resolved. The future of Northern Ireland's policing is worth our serious consideration, and I know that it will receive serious consideration here today.

5.29 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

Before I say anything else, let me deal with the issue of Weston Park. The Minister ought to know—but if she does not, let me tell her very straight—that Weston Park, and the so-called agreements that the Government claim to have reached at that meeting, have absolutely no parliamentary or legislative authority or endorsement whatever. The Government did not allow the House to debate those matters or to vote on them; they did not even have the courage or the forthrightness to make a statement about the meeting. There is therefore not the slightest even moral commitment to those agreements on the part of any Member, apart from Ministers if they so will it.

The Minister has revealed that she does not even know whether one of the parties that took part in the Weston Park meeting is a party to one of the so-called agreements. That makes clear beyond peradventure that the word "agreement" is thoroughly inappropriate in this context, and that the Government are deluding themselves in a way that I find rather troubling.

Having said that, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) for initiating a debate on a crucial subject in Government time. The subject is crucial for at least two reasons. Northern Ireland is the part of the United Kingdom in which public order is most at risk, most frequently at risk and most consistently at risk; and, as we all know, the whole issue of policing is a major part of the peace process and of the necessary talks that we all hope will lead to a definitive settlement in Northern Ireland.

I felt that much of what was said by the hon. Member for North Antrim was excessively pessimistic and negative. I agree with the Minister that he suggested that nothing had improved since 1998, which is not warranted by the facts. I also felt, however, that—in the best traditions of the Government over the past few years and months, and certainly over the past few months during which I have played my current role—the Minister was excessively sanguine. I know that she does not want to be complacent. From time to time she says—with, I am sure, complete sincerity—that she has no intention of allowing herself to be complacent. However, by reciting the particularly sanguine mantra that she has recited on many occasions, she puts herself in great danger of inducing unjustified euphoria in herself or in her ministerial colleagues.

The picture is mixed. Some things have gone surprisingly well in Northern Ireland. I entirely agree with what the Minister said about the policing board, which is a shining example of that. I touch wood, as I do of necessity when at the Dispatch Box, but none of us could have expected the board to work as well as it has so far. It is encouraging that it got to work so rapidly and in such a businesslike fashion. It is also encouraging that it was able to resolve issues that, although largely symbolic, were nevertheless difficult—the uniform and cap badge, and the appointment of a new Chief Constable.

Lady Hermon

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential for the proposed policing legislation not to undermine the central importance of the board, which is working so well? In particular, does he agree that it should not be undermined by an extension of the police ombudsman's powers?

Mr. Davies

I agree with the general principle. I will not go into the details of the legislation today because this is a consultation period and we are still waiting for the Constantine report, which as far as I know has not yet been completed. It was supposed to be delivered at the beginning of December, but I have not seen it.

I had intended to meet members of a number of relevant organisations in Northern Ireland today, but was unable to do so because of the debate. They include the chief constable, the policing board and the Police Federation. Although I have some ideas about what the hon. Lady has said and what the Government have proposed, I think it would be discourteous to make any pronouncement on behalf of the official Opposition without listening—in confidence and informally, of course—to what those important stakeholders in the whole process might have to say.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Police Ombudsman—who is a woman—will be allowed to go backwards, or is she going to move forward? Our worry is that, under the proposals, it seems that she will have powers that can take her back into the past, whereas she should be dealing only with the present and the future.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman again invites me down a long road, but I will not go down it now. However, I should say, since he has given me the opportunity to do so, that I admire the way in which the Ombudsman has tackled her task. She has already developed a reputation for independence in Northern Ireland. That is a great asset—in fact, it is an indispensable characteristic for the proper discharge of that function.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I want to repeat what has been said. The time has come to leave the past behind us, because if we keep on dragging it up, we keep on dragging up the problem. We should therefore look to building a new future together, but in leaving behind the past as it relates to the behaviour of the Unionist parties, and so forth, we should do the same in relation to all behaviour, and build a new future together.

Mr. Davies

I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman—whatever we do, we must do it even-handedly and fairly. He has heard me use those two terms time and again in the past year, and we must always be reminded of them, but unfortunately they have sometimes been forgotten in many contexts. I should say that I am struck whenever there is agreement between himself and the hon. Member for North Antrim. It would be a brave man in Northern Ireland politics who wanted to take on both of the hon. Gentlemen on a particular matter.

There are other matters that have gone favourably. In particular, I want to congratulate all concerned in the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the way in which the new recruitment programme has proceeded. That we should over-ride normal human rights criteria by establishing a quota for the two religious categories in recruiting to the Police Service of Northern Ireland is of course an anomaly. However, the Opposition strongly endorse the need—temporarily, at least—for that anomaly, so that we can try to get away from the distortions that we inherit from the past.

Lady Hermon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall, but if the hon. Lady will forgive me I shall not do so too frequently as I do not want to take up too much time.

Lady Hermon

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. I understand that the Conservative party is in fact a pro-agreement party. The agreement twice makes provision for guaranteeing equality of opportunity, irrespective of religion. Why is policing legislation allowed to override the agreement by permitting religious discrimination in the recruitment of police officers?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Lady is absolutely right—the Conservative party very much supports the Belfast agreement. She is a distinguished lawyer, and I thought that she would try to catch me out on this particular inconsistency. However, I thought that I answered the point before she intervened, by acknowledging that the position is anomalous. If she wants to tell me that I am being illogical, she will win the argument. Unfortunately, to solve practical problems in life one sometimes has to accept anomalies and contradictions. Where a choice exists between two courses of action, neither of which is entirely logical or desirable in itself on first principles, one has to make a pragmatic judgment such as the one that I have set out. I should emphasise that, in doing so, it is very important to be aware that such an anomaly exists, and that a distortion is being introduced to counterbalance a worse one; one must not try to pretend that it is something other than a distortion or an anomaly. In any event, the provision is justified only over a temporary period; that is the basis on which it has been introduced, and on which we support it.

Some aspects of Northern Ireland policing have not been going so well, however. The Minister, with a tendency towards a certain euphoria in these matters, skated over these issues. I am sorry that she did because she has fundamental responsibility for them, and I know that she conducts her responsibilities with enormous conscientiousness. She is very much aware of the facts; she probably genuinely worries about them every night and morning, but she does not want to come before the House of Commons—it would be contrary to the whole culture of new Labour to do so—and set out the facts, which are uncomfortable and disturbing.

The fact is that police numbers are badly down. The Patten report provided for a police force of 7,500 men and women on the assumption of the establishment of peace and normality in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady will have the exact figures—I do not—but the regular force in Northern Ireland is less than 7,000. That is a matter of considerable concern, and for the hon. Lady not to mention it was slightly artificial. Of course, we have a full-time police reserve, and I congratulate the Government on doing what we pressed them to do for months in renewing the contracts of the full-time police reserve when they came up in September. However, that only gives us a three-year time scale and it is very important to look forward to ensuring that the policing numbers in Northern Ireland are sufficient to meet the tasks that are, sadly, much greater and more formidable than Patten assumed they would be four and a half years after the agreement.

Morale still appears to be low in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I hope that I am wrong here and that the Minister can give me the right figure, but, according to newspaper reports, on average one man or women in ten in the PSNI reports sick at any one time. If so, it is very worrying, and I hope that something can be done about it.

The Minister is also keenly aware of the constant threat of disorder and intermittent violence in inner-city areas in Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast. I am thinking particularly of Short Strand and west and north Belfast. Sometimes one thinks that the various measures taken to de-escalate the violence are working, but suddenly there is the disappointment of another outbreak. That is very worrying. I do not want to go into this in too much detail, but I should like to say something in public that I have already said to the Minister in private and to others in Northern Ireland— the House will appreciate who I might be speaking to on these matters. It is important that we make it a matter of urgency greatly to increase the number of CCTV cameras in inner-city areas in Northern Ireland.

Against this variegated background, which has both light and shade, the question is what the Government are doing about policing. They have been behaving very erratically. Following the initial consultation on the Patten report two years ago, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who is not in his place this afternoon, went out of his way to reassure Unionists. In his statement to the House of 19 January 2000, the right hon. Gentleman specifically downgraded the role of the district policing partnerships and deferred any decision on giving them powers to raise money to buy in additional policing services, which was in the original Patten report. In the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the right hon. Gentleman then introduced a number of safeguards in the relationship between the policing board and the chief constable to ensure that operational independence would be preserved. In an effort to reassure Unionists, he also introduced the disqualification on those with criminal convictions from serving as independent members of DPPs.

Those are two areas in which the Government now propose to make changes in the reverse direction. They plan to reduce the grounds on which the chief constable can appeal to the Secretary of State to block reports and inquiries and to make it easier for the policing board to initiate such inquiries. The motion before the House makes it clear that the Government intend, subject to certain provisos, to relax the disqualification against convicted terrorists serving as independent members of DPPs.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I know that he has given way on a number of occasions, so I will keep this brief. Are there are circumstances in which he would allow convicted former terrorists to take part in local police partnerships, given that the Government have already made a commitment that the peace process must be utterly completed before that goes ahead? In those circumstances, would he accept that such a change should be made at some point in the future?

Mr. Davies

I think that I have had slightly more experience of conducting negotiations than the people who are currently responsible for Government policy. If we are going into wider negotiations with a view to reaching a comprehensive and timetabled settlement, as I have been urging on the Government for a long time, it is not sensible to put all one's cards on the table in advance. It is much more sensible to ensure that one puts one's cards on the table only when others are doing the same. There is something fundamentally wrong with the tactics pursued by Members on the Treasury Bench. The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in his attendance at and participation in debates on Northern Ireland, which I welcome, so he knows that I have been developing my critique for a year. Indeed, the Government may even have accepted certain aspects of it—although they are not likely to give me any credit. However, there seems to have been some partial acceptance and I shall say a little more about tactics later in my speech.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart should get a good mark from the Whips because he cleverly intervened just as I was drawing attention to the most embarrassing aspect of the Government's behaviour—the blatant contradiction between the policing policies adopted by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool only two years ago and those that the Government are currently proposing. There has been a complete U-turn.

The Minister will recall that when the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 was going through the House, the Government were constantly accused by nationalists of resiling from Patten in order to propitiate the Unionists. However, with this U-turn, the Government are being accused by Unionists of the contrary—of resiling from the Act to appease nationalists. If that is not contradictory, I do not know what is.

I warn the Government against proceeding in that fashion because they are underestimating the intelligence of the people with whom they are dealing. The Government should not continue to underestimate the intelligence of the public as regards any aspect of policy and governance anywhere in the United Kingdom, even though they do so constantly, but they make a great mistake in doing so in Northern Ireland—as I am sure that the Minister, privately, realises already. The political intelligence of people on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland is especially acute, because politics is an existential matter and people follow it extremely carefully.

I hesitate to make my next point, although it needs to be said: people on both sides in Northern Ireland have an especially clear vision of history going back over many centuries. They are extremely conscious of their history as they see it. When one is presented with two different accounts of the history of the same place, it is often difficult to relate them. It is like looking at a mountain from opposite sides; one has to remind oneself that it is the same mountain.

A feature of those readings of history is that in both cases there is a story of endless trickery or betrayals—or attempted trickery or betrayals—by the British. It is thus not very clever of the Government to do something that further undermines confidence in their straightforwardness or consistency.

The Government should carefully think through their policies. They will not get away with easy card-shuffling tricks when they are dealing with people in Northern Ireland, as they should know by now.

I do not believe for a moment that the Government have any intention of being duplicitous. They do not want to be two-faced, but they are in a frightful muddle because they have been going about the peace process in entirely the wrong way.

The current muddle is only part and parcel of the general muddle that the Government have got themselves into over the peace process. The trouble is that they have used a tactic of making unilateral concessions and trying to do partial deals with one party, and then finding that they have upset another party, then trying to appease the others and then—my goodness—finding that someone else has been left out and needs another favour, and so on. That is a hopeless way of conducting the peace process, but it is exactly what has happened over the past four and a half years, and it is a major reason why we have failed to make the progress that could have been expected following the Belfast agreement.

Yet again, I beg the Government to rethink and to consider once again the need for interlinkage. The Minister of State has heard this from me many times before. No one in Northern Ireland will make a step forward without knowing what portion of the total price to he paid that move represents, what others will do in return, and by when, and what will happen if the commitments are not fulfilled. Everyone has to see the end-game and be part of a comprehensive deal, or we will have no definitive settlement.

That is why partial proposals on individual aspects are a mistake. It would be far better for the Government to keep their cards close to their chest and hold discussions with all parties to find an agreement, which of course will never be completely satisfactory to everyone, but which they could all live with on a contingency basis. If I were Secretary of State, that is the point at which I would define my proposals, and not before.

Jane Kennedy

When we undertook to examine how we could deal with the question of the disqualification from joining DPPs applying to former prisoners, it was in the context that Sinn Fein would support the new beginning to policing, but it failed to do that. We are now discussing a new set of circumstances in which it would not only support that new beginning but take the other enormous steps that we have debated. We believe that, in that context, it would be entirely appropriate to discuss the changes to legislation that we have proposed.

Mr. Davies

Northern Ireland Office Ministers have demonstrated in recent weeks that they understand some interlinkage and contingency that are essential in this process, and there is no doubt that the way in which they have proposed changing the legislation is far better than the way in which they would have done it just a few months ago. To that extent, they have learned the lessons of the disappointments of the past four and a half years, and of course I welcome that.

The Secretary of State was clearly in a difficult position, because the Government's legislative programme was in place before he assumed his new responsibilities. It would have been difficult for him to go back to first base, although that might have been desirable. He has presented a Bill with some proposals on policing, while the Government are publicising other proposals so that people can discuss them and understand that they might be enacted if certain conditions are fulfilled—they are contingent on certain "acts of completion" by Sinn Fein.

I welcome that element of conditionality and contingency, which is exactly what I have been calling for for a year. Congratulations. I am very happy. However, it is unfortunate that this is only a partial learning of the lesson. If the Minister of State thinks through the logic of what she and her colleagues have done, she will see that everything should have been contingent, because there are so many issues involved, quite apart from policing, including decommissioning, the military presence in Northern Ireland and the restoration of the institutions in Stormont. Those issues are all linked and it would be a frightful mistake to take any one element and say that we can deal with it separately or legislate on it in advance, before a comprehensive settlement is put together. That would be to limit the Government's flexibility and give away some of their limited currency for nothing in return, which is a foolish tactic in any context. Reducing flexibility would also make it harder for other parties to come up with imaginative solutions.

In my view, the Government are about a quarter of the way in the right direction on tactics after four and a half years. I do not know whether that is an encouraging situation, although it is certainly more encouraging than if there had been no progress at all. It is still a long way from the concerted, strategic thinking that we need to handle a peace process as complicated and as important as the one that we have in Northern Ireland.

5.56 pm
Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I entirely agree with the Government's assertion in the amendment that we have made substantial progress in creating peace on our streets. There is no doubt that the atmosphere is totally transformed from what it was a few years ago, but a 300-year quarrel—the past 30 years have been about the worst—is not healed in a week or a fortnight. There is no instant solution; there is a healing process, and what is required is a framework for that process. We have that in the Good Friday agreement. The healing process is under way, and there is no doubt about that. For the first time in our history—the importance of this has been underestimated—the people of Ireland as a whole, north and south—

Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry)

Not again.

Mr. Hume

Yes, this is important. This is only the second time I have said this, and the hon. Members did not even bother to listen to me the first time.

Madam Deputy Speaker


Mr. Hume

Yes, there should be order over there.

For the first time ever, the people of the north and the south voted overwhelmingly on how they wished to live together. It is the duty of all true democrats throughout Ireland to implement the will of the people. That vote sent a clear message to the IRA. Historically, it has always said that it is acting in the name of the Irish people. If it now wants to do that, there must be a complete and absolute end to its violence, which it is clearly working towards, and more importantly, it must end its existence as a paramilitary organisation and devote its energies to building a new and peaceful society. [Interruption.]

That vote also sent out a challenge to Unionists who oppose the agreement because, also for the first time in history, the whole of nationalist Ireland accepts the principle of consent, which is a fundamental principle of Unionism: that there can be no change in Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people. [Interruption.] It is no good saying that the principle of consent works only when one agrees with it. If the Good Friday agreement, which the people voted for, is brought down, it will be necessary for the two Governments to work together alone to solve the problem—and where might that leave the Unionists? It is the duty of all of us to implement the will of the people, and that means implementing the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects.

The first principle of the agreement is respect for difference, and who can disagree with that? There is no victory for either side in the agreement; there is total respect for both identities. The second principle involves institutions that respect those differences—a proportionally elected Assembly, and all sections are there, and a proportionally elected Government in Northern Ireland, and all sections are there.

The third principle—the healing process—is that the representatives of all sections should work together in our common interests, which does not involve waving flags at one another, but the real politics: social and economic development and, as I always say, spilling our sweat together, not our blood. As we work together, we will break down the barriers of the past and a new society will evolve based on agreement and respect for difference. That is the challenge that faces all people who truly want to solve this problem, but those who want to play Rangers versus Celtic matches all the time and are looking for victory will never solve anything by continuing down the road that they are taking.

6.1 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and I wish to draw attention to the loss of morale that has occurred in the Police Service of Northern Ireland in very recent years, but before I do so I want to respond to some of the issues raised regarding the statistics on violence.

The Minister referred to the level of violence that existed in the early 1970s. I often hear Government spokespersons, from the Prime Minister downwards, referring to the vast improvement that there has been in Northern Ireland, and they compare it to the early 1970s. With that comparison, they will get no disagreement from us. More than 400 people were killed in the early 1970s and significantly fewer people are being killed now, but the point is that the number of people being killed in the middle 1990s was declining year on year, until we had the Belfast agreement.

Mr. Tom Harris

Would the hon. Gentleman contradict the figures that show that, in the three years leading up to the signing of the Good Friday agreement, 343 people lost their lives as a result of terrorist activities and that, in the three years following that agreement, the figure was 53?

Mr. Campbell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The figures from the chief constable's report show that, in each of the three years before the agreement and the three years since, the statistics in relation to bombings, shootings, kidnappings and explosives all show not just marginal increases of 5, 10 or 20 per cent., but increases of 100 per cent. and, in some cases, 300 per cent., so violence is increasing when compared with the period immediately before the agreement.

I want to make it clear that this is a comparison not of Northern Ireland in 2002 with Northern Ireland in 1972, but of Northern Ireland today with Northern Ireland immediately before the Belfast agreement. With that comparison, there should be no dispute and no argument. The statistics show that more people are being injured and shot, that more bombs are being planted and that more violence is occurring now than before the agreement. There ought to be no dispute or argument about that.

I now want to move on to police morale. The Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to police recruitment, and I have to raise that issue again. Whenever we in Northern Ireland have a merit principle for police recruitment, every member of each law-abiding community is quite content and is prepared to support that recruitment principle because it is based on merit. So the best-qualified people, irrespective of their religion or politics, are recruited to become police officers to combat crime. Unfortunately, because of the Government's insistence on the 50:50 rule, we are not getting that. Instead, hundreds of people from the Unionist community who are suitably qualified, law abiding and want a career in policing are being told that they cannot have that career because of their religion. That is abominable, and it ought to be detested and opposed by every Member.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when I asked that very question during Northern Ireland questions last week, the Minister did not give the answer that I was looking for: specifically how she and the Government would address the very injustice that the hon. Gentleman describes?

Mr. Campbell

I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and it is not before time that the Government should address that specific point. The rule cannot be defended or justified. Every aspect of common law and any approach to the merit principle would suggest that the 50:50 rule must be abandoned.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that the chief constable is having difficulty in getting recruits from the United Kingdom because of the 50:50 rule? He told me that personally when I met him with my party.

Mr. Campbell

Yes, the lack of recruits is precisely part of the problem in Northern Ireland. Part of the reason that criminal activity has increased is that fewer police officers are available on the ground, because hundreds of suitable applicants are being told that they are not acceptable purely on the ground of their religion. That is utterly reprehensible.

Mr. McCabe

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

I will give way once more.

Mr. McCabe

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I shall be very brief. I follow his objections to the recruitment policy, but what would be his answer to the third report from the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, which pointed out the problems of religious imbalance and said: without some radical change in the force"— it was 1997–98, so the reference was to the RUC— it will take a generation to redress the religious imbalance."? How would the hon. Gentleman tackle the issue if not by this approach?

Mr. Campbell

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is simple: by the full implementation of the merit principle, so that every member of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland and every member of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland who wants a career in policing can understand, when they complete their application forms, that their religious persuasion will play no part in their rejection or acceptance as police recruits, but that that will depend only on their ability to do the job.

Lady Hermon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell

No, I am afraid that I will not give way any more.

My answer would be the full implementation of the merit principle and that principle only. That might involve taking longer to redress the balance, but at least the entire community could be confident that people were being selected entirely on the grounds of their ability and merit.

I now want to move on to some other matters that the Government appear to be prepared to contemplate today. We have included the integrity of policing in our motion. Her Majesty's Government's ongoing discussions with those who represent fully armed terror give no grounds for confidence in the Unionist community that the integrity of policing will be re-established having been undermined as a result of low morale, low numbers, 50:50 recruitment and increasing violence. We are hearing continuous rumours about the on-the-runs and the propositions being hinted at there. The lives of hundreds of prison officers are in jeopardy. They have been visited by the police and told that their names were found on computer files located in the spy ring at Stormont affair. Those people are in fear of their lives as a result of this entire scenario.

In concluding my remarks, I have to refer to the issue of Weston Park, which has been raised several times. The Minister was approached and was asked several times to give her view regarding agreements entered into as a result of the negotiations at Weston Park. It would appear that, at the second time of asking, she was unable to confirm or deny which parties were party to the agreements that have flown from it. I remind the House that it was as a result of agreements at Weston Park that the institutions were re-established after they had been suspended on a previous occasion. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was not only party to but benefited from that reinstatement. At the time of Weston Park, when the discussions about policing and on-the-runs were ongoing, not only were we told by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann that issues in relation to other substantive points would not be brought to a conclusion, but that one issue, and one issue only, was on the table at Weston Park—decommissioning.

Unfortunately, we now see the reality of what has happened as a result of Weston Park and the current scenario in which Unionist communities across Northern Ireland are completely opposed to the implementation of the Belfast agreement because of what they see happening to the police. The police are supposed to represent all of the community, and they can do so if and when the Government restore the integrity that the Royal Ulster Constabulary once had, which has been lost as a result of the many decisions that have been taken by the Government, both inside and outside the House.

6.11 pm
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

When I heard the opening remarks of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), I wondered whether he was rehearsing a broadcast as we move towards election time. It reminded me of the many times that I saw him on television when I was a youngster growing up in Port Glasgow. He always displayed the same characteristics—leaping from rally to rally with his bowler hat and his flowing sash, always threatening to bring down an institution and always claiming no surrender.

Listening to him today, although I do not intend my comments to be rude, I was saddened that, after all this time, and after all the loss that has occurred, his position has not changed at all. I find it distressing that he recognises no difference between the hideous killings that occurred throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the current position. I recognise that there is a problem with crime in Northern Ireland, and it strikes me that some of the problems that we witness currently have surfaced since the agreement, as the level of real, organised crime, which has posed as something else in the past, is now being exposed. We should have common cause in wanting to tackle that. The hon. Gentleman has done us no favours, however, in his lack of movement today.

I wonder, when I listen to the hon. Gentleman, whether he would recognise an "act of completion" if it fell before him. I was brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, too, but I was brought up to believe that forgiveness is part of the system and that human beings can change. I wonder whether he recognises that.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North)

The hon. Gentleman talks about recognising an "act of completion". Will he define "act of completion"? The Prime Minister will not define it, and the Minister refused to define it at Question Time last week.

Mr. McCabe

I am referring to "acts of completion", and my assumption is that they take more than a single step. I realise that the hon. Gentleman and I may not share that viewpoint, but if we want to move forward, we may have to be prepared to accept that. That seems a basic point.

In terms of the changes about which we heard in policing partnerships and the board, I thought that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) perhaps did the Social Democratic and Labour party a disservice, as it strikes me that the Government may have changed their position. I would be the first to concede that there has been a change in the position enunciated previously by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). The SDLP now seems to be playing an active role in the policing board. If, through its active and genuine participation, it has been able to suggest changes that will improve the situation, we should welcome that. I would not regard that not as an outrageous 180° U-turn, but as the kind of process for which we should aim, in which people involve and include themselves. If they can suggest changes on the basis of that behaviour, I would welcome it.

Mr. Quentin Davies

I do not think that that is outrageous, and I did not use that term or imply that. I merely think two things. First, it is a U-turn, and I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has recognised that. Secondly, for the reason that I mentioned, it is tactically inept and pragmatically undesirable.

Mr. McCabe

We will have to disagree on both counts. I do not think that a change automatically signals a U-turn, and I do not agree that it is inept to accommodate change when people are playing a useful participative role. The kind of politics in which I believe suggests that when people are prepared to participate and play a useful and constructive role, we should listen to them and take them on board. I do not see anything inept about that. Indeed, were more people in the hon. Gentleman's party prepared to behave in that way, there might not be so few of them present in the Chamber, and so few of them in Parliament generally.

The lesson that Sinn Fein should take from the behaviour of the SDLP is that a road exists, if it is prepared to recognise it. It should follow a similar route. It should be prepared to make it clear that it is totally committed to the democratic process and wants to make the policing arrangements work—I am speaking of Sinn Fein as a party. At that point, if Sinn Fein was prepared to participate in the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, I would welcome that, as I would see it as a significant step forward.

In terms of the wider question of the arrangements with regard to other groups and paramilitary groups, the position is straightforward. It has been made clear that those groups will not be able to participate in any shape or form until we have had the essential "acts of completion". I would certainly include in those a complete declaration that the war is over—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)

Which has been made.

Mr. McCabe

I would like the handing-in of weapons and an end to the violence, too.

David Burnside

If there are convictions of members of Sinn Fein in relation to Colombia, Castlereagh or the present investigation into the spy ring, does that exclude it from the Executive or district policing partnerships?

Mr. McCabe

Given that none of those matters has yet been determined, it would not advance the situation were I to speculate on it.

To return to what I was saying, there is hope if we adopt an open approach. I am a little bemused by the Democratic Unionist party position—I confess that I always have been, so that is not new for me. As I understand it, however, the DUP is committed to devolution, although it has a tendency to destroy any institution that offers that way forward. In a funny way, it is the mirror image of Sinn Fein, because it is the party that wants to be half-in, half-out. It does not want to take part in any of the broad round-table talks in which movement might occur across the board—it wants back-door meetings with the Prime Minister and others to see if it can advance its case. I do not understand exactly what its problem is. It seems to me that it could make a commitment. It may wish to spend its time in this debate looking for a narrow definition of "acts of completion", but it could follow the Prime Minister's other statement. It could give the commitment that it is in favour of making the institutions secure and stable. For a party that believes in devolution, that would be an advance on its current position.

On the policing arrangements, I am surprised that the police do not get more credit for what they have achieved. The new chief constable attended the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recently, and my impression is that he has made a first-rate start. He has shown his capacity to deal with both sides. Whether he is dealing with loyalists posing as gangsters or the other way round or whether he is dealing with republican spies, the chap has shown us that he is prepared to do what he was put there to do. We should congratulate him on that.

We should also be pleased by the significant rise in Catholic recruitment to the Police Service. The Select Committee was right to say that that was a major impediment to the performance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Unless measures are taken to tackle that problem, it will take a generation for change to take place. As in keeping with other things that the DUP party would like, I recognise that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) would rather wait a generation for change to take place, but we do not have that time.

Lady Hermon

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee found that the main cause of low Catholic recruitment to what was the RUC was the intimidation of Catholic families and Catholic members of the police force? If that intimidation were to be eradicated and reduced, that, rather than discriminatory recruitment policies, would encourage young Catholics to come forward.

Mr. McCabe

It is true that intimidation was a significant factor, but I do not recall it being the only one. It is also true that the Committee concluded that it probably was not advisable to wait a generation for change. That point must be taken on board.

I want to return to the problem of ex-prisoners. It is pretty clear that such people could not join the district policing partnerships at the present time. However, my understanding is that that is not what is on offer. What is on offer is the possibility that, at some point in the future, ex-prisoners may be allowed to join the policing arrangements. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Minister, if we can tolerate ex-prisoners standing for the Assembly and perhaps being part of the Executive if they clearly dissociate themselves from violence and paramilitary means, I can certainly envisage a situation in which ex-prisoners could also play a part in the policing arrangements.

I was bemused by what the hon. Member for North Antrim said about the current legislation, but my understanding is that it requires political and independent members of the district policing partnership to hold office until the next local elections, which are scheduled for May 2005. I therefore do not understand how the change that he fears could occur. There is some provision for additional appointments to be made to the Belfast board, but that is primarily because of issues that relate to the volume of work. The central anxiety may have been exaggerated.

Mr. Hunter

We have sex registers for paedophiles. Their offences are so hideous that they should be remembered. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman explain why there should not be a comparable system for former terrorists who have committed equally horrific crimes?

Mr. McCabe

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has good reason to have strong feelings on this subject. However, if we were to keep registers of all the former terrorists who go on to play a constructive role in active politics across the globe, some people whom we now welcome here as statesmen would not get to play any role in politics whatever. We must be prepared to move on. When people are willing to renounce violence and to use exclusively democratic means, I am prepared to recognise that, and I hope that most people would, too. I would like to see the day when the Assembly and the Executive have the power to control policing in Northern Ireland. That is the day when the people of Northern Ireland will embrace their police force and have faith in it.

6.25 pm
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

It is always interesting to hear the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). Only yesterday I was walking in his constituency, and on the ancient stones of the Giant's Causeway. I was with my friend Ian Morrice, and he asked me what the hon. Gentleman was like. I said that he was indeed honourable and sincere, and held very strong positions that he described extremely clearly. I fear that I was so full of praise for the hon. Gentleman that Ian Morrice, who is planning to marry his fiancée Wendy in December, might invite the hon. Gentleman to conduct the ceremony. In that case, it would most definitely be a marriage made in Antrim.

I have also learned that the hon. Gentleman's opinions are totally internally consistent. What he concludes follows logically from where he starts. I have come to the view that where I differ from him—I do not differ from him on all matters—it is because of his inbuilt assumptions. As others have already acknowledged, the hon. Gentleman and the Democratic Unionist party represent a considerable proportion of the Northern Ireland community, who agree with the positions that he takes. For that reason if no other, it is important that we hold our debates with a spirit of respect for the proposals outlined in the motions.

Over the weekend a degree of uncertainty has been thrown over the Northern Ireland peace process. Several newspapers reported that the IRA was poised to announce a series of major moves, including comprehensive decommissioning, but those stories were subsequently denied by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness). The confusion is not surprising, or uncharacteristic of Northern Ireland politics, but it certainly makes today's debate poignant, not least because it forces us to ask questions about the degree to which the Good Friday agreement is central to the process and needs to be fulfilled. The paramilitaries have a significant role in rebuilding the fragile trust that the peace process has needed, which now exists in a slightly eroded form.

Policing in Northern Ireland takes us to the heart of some of the measures in the agreement that the various parties say have not been implemented as was required. However, even here there is a complicating factor. We do not have the luxury of considering completion with regard to policing alone, but must consider the other factors that have been mentioned in the debate. The IRA's alleged spy ring in Stormont, the embarrassing arrests in Colombia, and some of the other issues that have been mentioned, make it clear that we must define an act of completion before it can realistically be achieved.

With all that going on, it is hardly surprising that those sceptics who do not believe that the IRA will lay down its arms for good have to some extent been successful in forcing the suspension that we are faced with at the moment. Suspension was the least worst option, given that collapse was the alternative, but at all times in our discussions we return to questions of policing and to consideration of what the Government and the parties in Northern Ireland have done to make it possible for policing to be reformed so as to create consensus across the communities in Northern Ireland.

We must consider to what extent the DUP's motion should attract support. When the hon. Member for North Antrim defended the words in the motion that say that the DUP does not consider Sinn Fein's representatives fit to participate in the government of part of the United Kingdom", he is making a strong statement. He goes beyond my position, but my assumptions are different at the outset.

I subscribe to the view taken by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), reiterated to a large extent by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). Just because someone has a past does not mean that he cannot have a future. What qualifies Sinn Fein representatives to take their place in a Government in Northern Ireland is partly their ability to lead those who resist participating in the police force, and persist in participating in terrorism, towards a peaceful outcome.

The hon.—and, indeed, reverend—Member for North Antrim knows more than I do about the difference between saints and sinners, but surely no one would suggest that members of Sinn Fein present themselves as saints. However, there are leaders who are capable of bringing people towards accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a more appropriate form of policing than the punishment beatings and other forms of intimidation that, sadly, have been used by some to justify the continued armament and organisation of paramilitary forces in both halves of the community.

Lady Hermon

Would not it be helpful if the Sinn Fein leadership immediately condemned outright any attacks on PSNI recruits, whether Catholic or Protestant, instead of hesitating and constantly sitting on the fence?

Lembit Öpik

Our discussion of Northern Ireland is becoming more nebulous, but the relevance of the hon. Lady's question is to underline how difficult Sinn Fein has found it to bring the hard-liners towards the moderates. It would be helpful if Sinn Fein gave not only a commitment to renounce the punishment-beating ethos that has dogged such a large proportion of Northern Ireland life, but an explicit statement that there should be no intimidation of any Catholic or nationalist who wanted to join the police force. Sadly, underlying intimidation makes it difficult for nationalists who want to join the police force to have the courage to do so, and their fear is understandable.

Rev. Ian Paisley

IRA-Sinn Fein have officially issued and circulated a leaflet—the information has also been put on posters in their areas—telling their people to treat the new police service in the same way as they treated the RUC. That is an official document, issued and paid for by that party, and the policy is advocated by all their spokesmen, including their leader and deputy leader.

Lembit Öpik

The hon. Gentleman makes an honest point. My interpretation of that action is slightly different. I think it tells us that just as we see open divisions among hard-liners and moderates on the Unionist side, we also see the symptoms of a mirror-image tussle going on between moderates and hard-liners on the republican side. One could conclude that everyone in Sinn Fein is a hard-liner, but I take a different view. Some moderation, which has had a stabilising effect, has been achieved by the people in Sinn Fein who have chosen to participate actively and publicly in the political process.

I want to make an interesting analogy, which comes from watching the news in my younger days. I remember the hon. Member for North Antrim commenting on something called the third force, which was widely publicised as an armed militia on the Unionist or loyalist side. That was many years ago. He gave the impression of having an association with that armed militia, although I am not suggesting that he explicitly promoted violence in any way. One reason why the third force did not become a cohesive paramilitary force in its own right under that name was because the hon. Gentleman was willing and able to maintain stability among Unionists and loyalists. In effect, he did what I should like members of Sinn Fein to do. I want them to encourage an adherence to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in preference to an adherence to a militia that organises itself outside the law.

In addition, we have the opportunity to draw comparisons with the struggles among Protestants. The Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association still enjoy a considerable degree of organisation and are behind some of the trouble that persists. If we are balanced about the discussion—we have talked about symmetry in Northern Ireland politics—we have to recognise that Sinn Fein is not alone in trying to bring its paramilitaries to order.

David Burnside

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the hard-liners within Unionism, of whom I am proud to be one, whether in the Ulster Unionist party or the Democratic Unionist party, do not sit on the army council of any armed terrorist organisation, whereas Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness sit on the army council of the Provisional IRA, which is carrying out crime and terrorism?

Lembit Öpik

I do not know enough about what goes on outside the Chamber of Stormont to know who is in what position, although I fully understand why the hon. Gentleman raises suspicions about the presence of those individuals on the army council of the IRA. However, that is not the key issue. If the supposition is correct, individuals such as Gerry Adams have a direct line of influence on hard-liners, who need to be convinced to come into the police service. I believe that a proportion of Sinn Fein members acknowledge that a peaceful political approach will deliver their outcomes more effectively than the paramilitary approach advanced by the IRA.

I am sure that my assumption differs from those of Members of the Democratic Unionist party and I suspect we will not get alignment on this, because it is at the heart of the debate. Our responses to it will define how we choose to vote on the motion. If one believes that a large proportion of people in Sinn Fein and the IRA still think that violence will get the result they want, one should vote with the DUP. I think that the organisation has moved on, and for that reason I am sceptical of the DUP's position.

The issue of concessions is interesting. The motion refers to concessions that have allegedly been made to buy off the IRA. I do not have a problem with making concessions to the IRA if they are defined as political progress towards equality in communities rather than a financial bribe. This is a matter more of semantics than of bribery. Any Government would negotiate towards peace by providing greater incentives for peace than for the continuation of violence. I suppose that is why we differ on that aspect of the motion.

I also take issue with the motion's stance on allowing terrorists on to district policing partnerships. The case against that approach has been well made and I do not need to repeat it. What is interesting, however, is that the Government have made progress in defining more explicitly what needs to happen before ex-prisoners are allowed on to the policing partnerships. I am not sure that that was done on purpose, but the debate has moved on from whether there are cast-iron requirements to defining what those are. It is all about acts of completion now. As has been said, we have yet to see what the Government mean by acts of completion. To his great credit, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green made an effort to define those acts. I have no doubt that Ministers will invite him to discussions, either to embrace his ideas or to shut him up. I am not sure whether the Minister of State is shaking her head at the former or the latter, but it cannot be both. The words "acts of completion" are vital, and we must have a clearer definition of them before those who are sceptical about Sinn Fein activity—and, perhaps, those who are sceptical about the amount of back-room dealing by the Government—are satisfied that there is transparency in these matters.

It is clear that in their amendment the Government are congratulating themselves on the openness of their dealings. I suspect that many of us feel that there was more going on at Weston Park than there should have been. [Interruption.] I speak euphemistically, but I hear nodding from behind me, which suggests that I have more than a modicum of support, because it takes some effort to nod so loudly that one can be heard. There is an unanswered question, which, let us face it, concerns on-the-runs. I am concerned that a link could arise between our achievements in policing and the resolution of that issue. The Government need to learn that there must be symmetry in private as well as in public, because everything discussed in Northern Ireland will eventually come into the public eye.

I turn now to the question of where we go next, and quotas. The Minister of State will know that I asked her a question about quotas at Northern Ireland questions, and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) made a similar point a few moments ago. It is widely recognised that the police in Northern Ireland have not been effective in recruiting from the population at large, and there has been a lack of trust between the police and certain sections of the community. The two problems are clearly linked, and Patten rightly recommended changes to tackle both of them.

I was pleased to hear from the Minister last week that 35 per cent. of those applying to join the PSNI over the past year came from the Catholic community, and I share her hope that that will continue. However, she did not answer my question about what will happen when the 50:50 rule goes wrong. The example that I gave concerned what would happen if a proportion of recruits, from one side or the other, dropped out? Would it be necessary to sack or make redundant individuals from the other side of the religious divide to maintain symmetry? What is the Minister's answer to the question—asked, I think, by the hon. Member for East Londonderry—about what will happen to the many people, allegedly on the Unionist side, who feel rejected on the basis of the 50:50 rule? I am not suggesting that we need to review legislation, but it would be appropriate for the Minister to give us some answers when summing up the debate.

I was rather surprised that, in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) said something like, "If she wants to tell me that I am being illogical, she will win the argument." Logic is important in framing legislation, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not saying that if he were Secretary of State he would on occasion support illogical legislation.

The greatest illogicality—or perhaps simply a great surprise to me—is the fact that although the Liberal Democrats worked with the Conservatives, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP to oppose the 50:50 quotas when they were proposed during the proceedings on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the hon. Gentleman now seems to be saying that the Conservatives have changed their view and accepted the quotas. That sounds, to use his phrase, like a 180-degree U-turn. People are entitled to change their view, but I am not sure what has changed to encourage the Conservatives to embrace that principle. We have already heard the strong opposition to it from the hon. Members who sit behind me. If the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford or one of his colleagues responds to the debate, perhaps we could have clarification on that point.

We all agree that policing in Northern Ireland is a tough, dangerous job. It is about bringing law and order to a place where disputes are sometimes settled with fatalities. I support the work of the police in Northern Ireland and pay tribute to their courage. I know that the overwhelming majority in the police are not sectarian and have always been committed to peace.

I hope that the acts of completion will be clearly defined by the Government, and that they will be delivered and matched by acts of good faith on the other side. Ultimately, politicians must make judgment calls, and although we have heard cynicism and scepticism about what the IRA intends to do, the ball is in its court; it can deliver something that will deliver peace. If it is to do that, however, and if the Government are to live up to the words in their amendment, acts of completion must be clearly defined.

6.45 pm
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I follow the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) by stating that the debate should have offered a more positive statement on the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, but it gives hon. Members an opportunity to pay tribute to the immense bravery and commitment of the members previously of the RUC and now of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I cannot imagine that there is a more difficult policing job anywhere in the United Kingdom than on the streets of Belfast and Londonderry. Every Member of the House should be extremely grateful for the work of the police during the many years of the so-called troubles.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) said that police morale is particularly low at the moment, and I do not doubt that. I question whether unhappiness about the 50:50 recruitment policy is a greater cause of low morale than being the target of terrorist bullets and bombs, as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s. I should have thought that even with unhappiness about the recruitment policy, morale in the new police service is not as low as it was when terrorists regularly and systematically targeted officers.

It is said that there is great rejoicing in heaven over a sinner repenting, and I am sure that, on the 50:50 recruitment policy, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) falls into that category. I do not want to make political capital out of that. Surely on a matter such as Northern Ireland we should be prepared to look again at statements that we have made and consider them seriously in the light of current events. I hope that if the Government had decided that they had been wrong on one issue or another, they would have the courage and honesty to come to the Dispatch Box and say so. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on doing precisely that.

When it comes to being positive about the police service, we should bear it in mind that there have been several landmark events in the past couple of years, including the opening of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in November 2000, the enactment of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill and the establishment of police district commands in April 2001. On a matter that is pertinent to my other comments, last year the Chief Constable announced that he would be able to recruit more than 300 new officers, when the original target was only 260. Despite the reservations of some Opposition Members, the police service managed to recruit 40 more recruits than it told the Secretary of State it would be able to, even with the 50:50 restriction.

Mr. Dodds

The hon. Gentleman referred to the morale of the police service and asked whether it is lower now than it was when people were being shot and so on. I am sure that he will accept that morale is low because many members of the service feel that they have been betrayed. What would the hon. Gentleman say to the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, who expressed his disbelief at the plan suggested by the Secretary of State and claimed that it would prevent ordinary, decent people from joining the district policing partnerships? He said: An independent appointee who has terrorist baggage is by definition far from independent. Appointing such people devalues the meaning of the word.

Mr. Harris

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I had intended to refer to that point later in my comments, so perhaps he will bear with me.

Landmarks of the past couple of years include the appointment of the Northern Ireland Policing Board to replace the Police Authority; in November 2001, the first recruits under the new arrangements entered training, the policing board assumed its powers, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary changed its name to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for operational purposes, changing it formally on 5 April 2002. Most important, the Social Democratic and Labour party took up its responsibilities to participate in policing arrangements in Northern Ireland after decades of refusing to take part on behalf of its constituents. I congratulate the SDLP on doing so. The DUP's motion appears to reflect a desire to exclude more people from such arrangements, but we should be taking steps to ensure that Sinn Fein, too, faces up to its responsibility to participate in the policing board.

I shall now explore the motion in more detail—perhaps in so doing I shall reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds). DUP Members are urging the House to oppose offering non-elected convicted terrorists places on district policing partnerships. I am curious about their objection: is it to non-elected members, or to people with terrorist convictions? If the latter. I am not sure what position they have taken until now by agreeing to sit with Sinn Fein in the Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and only abandoning it—[Interruption.] When the cameras are not there the DUP Ministers have worked well with Sinn Fein Ministers in the Assembly.

Lady Hermon

It will help all hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris), to state that the reason why we object to people with terrorist convictions being members of district policing partnerships is the recommendation in the Patten report—the Government want that report to be fully implemented—that independent members of district policing partnerships should provide expertise in matters pertaining to community safety. Can the hon. Gentleman explain how anyone with a terrorist conviction can bring with him or her expertise in community safety? That is our objection.

Mr. Harris

I have great respect for the hon. Lady's views and for DUP Members. My point is simply that since the Government have already made a commitment not to appoint people with terrorist convictions to the policing partnerships at present—the time is not yet right—it would not be useful for the House to debate what qualifications such people need. The Government have said that the time is not yet right for such people to be appointed, and I for one am happy to accept that commitment.

I have no doubt that I will be asked—I can see the question on the lips of Opposition Members—what my definition of completion is. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned the disbandment of the IRA, but that is not part of the Good Friday agreement, so if that is what his party seeks it is seeking something that is not to be found in the detail of the agreement.

I am aware that at least one of my colleagues wants to speak, so I shall try to be brief. We in Scotland are used to members of nationalist parties continually talking down Scotland in general and its economic achievements in particular. I hear an echo of that in the DUP motion. The text of the motion is not rooted in reality. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the process of achieving normality in Northern Ireland was never going to be completed overnight, but it is disingenuous of DUP Members—especially the hon. Member for North Antrim, for whom I have a great deal of respect and who is not nearly as scary in real life as he appeared to be when as a boy I saw him on television—to suggest that the threat to individual lives in Northern Ireland is greater now than it was when the Good Friday agreement was signed. That is simply not true. Look at the economic statistics, the jobs that have been created and the confidence created by the Good Friday agreement—not by the Government, but by the agreement and by the people of Northern Ireland who signed up to it. The confidence that that has inspired in the single community of Northern Ireland is something that we should respect, not talk down.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? He need not be afraid.

Mr. Harris

I give way.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that never in the history of Northern Ireland has so much information been in the hands of Sinn Fein-IRA? That information is in the form of 1,000 documents containing people's names, addresses, details of their motor cars, the names of family members, where they are employed, what time they leave home, and so on. All that information is, for the first time, in the hands of the IRA—1,000 documents about people who serve the Government. Is that not a cause for people to be really concerned about what is happening?

Mr. Harris

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the alleged spy ring at Stormont, we all share his concern. It is a matter that should concern the security forces and does concern the Northern Ireland Office. However, his party stayed in the Northern Ireland Assembly for a long time before that event took place. In his speech today, he mentioned other events such as the Castlereagh break-in and the arrests in Colombia, but throughout that period his party—rightly—stayed in the Assembly. I have to ask whether the DUP walk-out a few weeks ago had more to do with the run-up to Assembly elections in May next year than with genuine concerns about recent security developments.

I ask the House to support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The motion does not reflect political reality in Northern Ireland, except as a cynical exercise in very early electioneering.

6.57 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

This has been a useful debate. I hope that the Democratic Unionist party will have many more Opposition days—this is the first occasion on which my party has secured an Opposition day debate.

I shall respond to some of the points made during the debate, but I hope that the House will let me make a few comments on my own account first. There are four main elements in the motion, the first of which is an awareness of the continuing terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. I join my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in denouncing loyalist violence. More and more, the Unionist community is seeing that loyalist paramilitaries are more interested in securing their own self-interest than in securing the Union or the position of the loyalist community. Their activities should immediately be brought to an end—they bring nothing but dishonour to the cause that they claim to uphold.

Much has been said about the extent of terrorist activity on the part of the Provisional IRA. During the course of its so-called ceasefire, its members have murdered many people and have been involved in the shooting or paramilitary beatings of hundreds of people. We all know of its gun-running from Florida, its training activities with FARC guerrillas in Colombia, the raid on the Castlereagh special branch headquarters, and its spying activities at Stormont—all from an organisation that purports to be on a ceasefire, an organisation that the Government continue to try to appease.

The recognition by the Government of the need to suspend the Assembly marked their recognition that Sinn Fein-IRA were involved in unacceptable activity. It is difficult to understand the Government's logic—they suspended the Assembly because of bad behaviour by the IRA, but will restore it by making concessions to the IRA. When the Government accept that the IRA has not behaved, I cannot accept that it is prudent to make more concessions to get it to behave; that is simply attempting to buy the silence of the Provisional IRA.

Lady Hermon

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unacceptable that four elected Sinn Fein Members absent themselves from the House, and therefore do not make themselves accountable to Parliament for the activities of their armed wing in Colombia, Castlereagh and elsewhere? Would he not welcome them taking their seats and making themselves accountable to all of us and their constituents?

Mr. Robinson

The Provisional IRA representatives who were elected to the House refuse to take the Oath and come to the House, but I believe that they should enter the House only if they are prepared to take an Oath to Her Majesty the Queen and abide by the principles set down by the Government of exclusive involvement in peaceful and democratic means. That is the way forward and should be the route of entry to the House and any other elected Chamber in the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister lectures the people of the United Kingdom about how unacceptable terrorist activity is when it relates to the activities of al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations throughout the world. It is therefore rather hypocritical of him to accept in his own backyard those same activities being carried out by organisations associated with those terrorist groups—he cannot send out both messages at once.

Several Members have found it difficult to accept the part of the motion that says that Sinn Fein-IRA are not fit to be in government. I should have thought that the argument was self-evident: an organisation cannot purport to represent the people of Northern Ireland through a Minister who is in charge of education but at the same time is a member of the army council of the Provisional IRA. What trust and confidence can anybody have in the representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA being part of the democratic process when they know that they are attempting to undermine the very principles of democracy on which the Assembly was established? It is a matter not simply of trust and confidence but of confidentiality and setting an example. The Provisional IRA is clearly still active in terrorism and has not accepted the principle that to enter the democratic process one must be exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means.

The reality is that the IRA is not shaping up for peace. In the past few months, there have been personnel changes at the top level of the Provisional IRA. There has been a significant change in the army council: the most ruthless killer and thug in the ranks of the Provisional IRA—Sean Gerard Hughes, who has been linked to many murders on this side of the water and in Northern Ireland—has been brought on to it. He has been linked to the south quay bombing in Canary Wharf, which brought the previous IRA ceasefire to an end in 1996 and in which two citizens were killed. He was also responsible for the murder of 12 soldiers at Warrenpoint, the mortar bomb in Newry and the killing of Justice Gibson and his wife. Does it sound like the IRA is putting a dove on its army council? If a dove was anywhere near Sean Gerard Hughes, he would kill it, but not until he had tortured it—that is what he has done to many of the victims of his organisation, and he was directly linked to those murders.

It is clear that the IRA is not shaping up for peace but is putting one of its most ruthless terrorists on to its army council, which is not consistent with the picture that the Government are attempting to paint of the intentions of the Provisional IRA and its political representatives in Sinn Fein.

Other behaviour by the IRA is not consistent with the picture painted by the Government. It still intends to use the principle of the threat of violence and its execution, turning the tap on and off to extract concessions from the Government. I agree entirely with the Conservative spokesman about the Government's tactics. Even if I agreed with the direction in which the Government say they want to go, I would never use their tactics. We have seen how they used those tactics in relation to decommissioning and terrorist prisoners. They let all the prisoners out and hoped that the IRA would come along and decommission its weapons. The Government made no attempt to extract concessions through the process.

Once again, the Government are using those same tactics. We are upfront, but the Government suggest that they will do something for Sinn Fein if it does something in return. Sinn Fein, however, will simply pocket that concession, and will look for something new from the Government to make the concessions that it wants. The Unionist community does not regard those things as concessions—it does not believe that disbanding an organisation that should not have been there in the first place is in any way a concession either to it or politics in general. Nor does it believe that it is a concession to hand in illegally held guns, as they should not have been possessed in the first place. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, indeed the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office have got it entirely wrong by making further concessions to the IRA.

The Social Democratic and Labour party, one of whose members has made a brief appearance today, has referred to the police being used as a political football. It, however, used the police as a political football by dragging them into the Belfast agreement. The only problem for the SDLP is that it does not want anyone to unravel what it has managed to put together as part of a political deal. The police have been used abysmally recently, and their morale has indeed hit rock bottom. The sickness rate, which has been referred to today, indicates the low morale in the Police Service.

I, of course, am opposed to the making of terrorist concessions—it is not right that convicted terrorists should be members of a policing partnership, as that will not encourage anyone else to join those partnerships.

Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be the ultimate insult to allow former terrorist prisoners to be part of the district policing partnerships, given that one of Sinn Fein-IRA's main objectives was to kill and maim police officers? To this day, they continue to gather information on police personnel.

Mr. Robinson

Of course I agree. Some of the arrangements for district policing partnerships are about a relationship between the partnership and the police. How can the police have confidence in a policing partnership whose membership includes people who have targeted and killed their colleagues in the past? Confidence and trust cannot exist in those circumstances. If the rules that the Government are attempting to change to bring convicted terrorists on to policing partnerships had been in place a year ago, I suspect that Denis Donaldson could have sought and gained membership of a policing partnership. The Government suspended the Assembly because a spy ring came to light and Government details got into the hands of a terrorist organisation, yet the Government suggest putting terrorists on police partnerships, where they can gather more information. That seems a peculiar rationale, and it stands logic on its head.

The Minister suggested that a leap of faith was required. She related that to what is generally known as taking a risk for peace. One cannot take a risk with the lives of people in Northern Ireland. The issues that we are considering are much too important; the Government cannot afford to take risks with them. The Government would be in a position to determine whether Sinn Fein had delivered on its end of the bargain, which they are trying to establish only after a period of time.

Some hon. Members said that if someone has a past it does not mean that they do not have a future. As a Christian, I believe that. I believe that lives can be transformed and that people can be redeemed. However, the first signal of redemption is repentance. Sinn Fein-IRA has shown no repentance. The second signal is changing one's life. There has been no change on the part of Sinn Fein. The Government could assess only after a long time whether it deserved the sort of concessions that they propose in the second schedule to the draft Bill and that they have offered to Sinn Fein-IRA.

I do not wish to take time from the Under-Secretary's reply, but I want to respond to one matter. It was suggested that the Democratic Unionist party should make its position clear about whether convicted terrorists should be part of an Executive. It was implied that we were comfortable with that, but we voted against it in the referendum and we voted in the Assembly for the exclusion of Sinn Fein. As an Assembly Minister, I never attended a Cabinet meeting. I did not go to the Executive because of the presence of Sinn Fein-IRA. I could operate in the role only because decisions could be made entirely in my Department. The Democratic Unionist party's position is clear: there is no place in government for those who are inextricably linked to violence and those who represent an unrepentant and armed terrorist organisation. That is unacceptable in the Executive and in policing partnerships.

7.12 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith)

We have had a long debate in which many views have been aired. I thank all hon. Members who contributed. Like the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I welcome the discussion and the exchange of views. There are several opinions that I cannot share, but I respect the depth of feeling about them, and the reasons for their expression.

Hon. Members should welcome the Government's openness in publishing an additional text for consideration with the draft clauses. The Government are right to be open and transparent about their thinking. They are also right to be firm in making it clear that no moves will be made about former prisoners sitting on district policing partnerships as independent members except in the context of acts of completion.

The proposal depends on acts of completion. My hon. Friend the Minister made that clear this evening, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stressed that last week, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised it in his speech in Belfast in October and in response to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in Prime Minister's questions last week. It is worth repeating the Prime Minister's words. In October, he said that republicans must make the commitment to exclusively peaceful means, real, total and permanent … We cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process … There is no parallel track left. The fork in the road has finally come. In response to the hon. Member for North Antrim on 27 November, the Prime Minister said: It is not merely a statement, a declaration or words. It means giving up violence completely in a way that satisfies everyone and gives them confidence that the IRA has ceased its campaign, and enables us to move the democratic process forward, with every party that wants to be in government abiding by the same democratic rules."—[Official Report, 27 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 309.]

David Burnside

What are the acts of completion? The Government set a date of 2008 as the deadline for the completion of decommissioning. That does not inspire confidence.

Angela Smith

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot accept the assurance. The Prime Minister's words are clear. He referred to exclusively peaceful means that are real, total and permanent and that satisfy everyone and give them confidence. I do not understand how we can be much clearer about the Government's intentions. I am sorry that hon. Members are not prepared to rely on that.

Let me consider specific questions.

Lembit Öpik

Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Angela Smith

I shall try to take questions later, but I am short of time and I want to respond to hon. Members' points.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) praised the Government for publishing the additional text for consideration. He said that it was right to do that. I was struck by the comments of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). He said that we cannot heal in a week or a fortnight but that the healing process was under way through the Good Friday or Belfast agreement. He outlined the challenges, which were evident from our debate.

My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) praised the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the chief constable for their work in tackling violence and criminality wherever they occur and whoever perpetrates them. The work of the organised crime taskforce shows the Government's commitment to tackle organised crime from paramilitaries or any other source.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) asked about the Patten report and former prisoners serving as independent members on district policing partnerships. Patten did not recommend that they should or should not serve. He said that district policing partnerships should have a mix of political and independent members and that the rules for independent members might be put on equal footing with those for political members. Former prisoners can already serve on district policing partnerships as councillors. They are therefore eligible for appointment as political members, but the Government have made it clear that that is conditional on acts of completion in the future. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford welcomed that comment.

Lady Hermon

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way and am pleased to see the Minister on the Front Bench for the winding-up speech.

I want to draw to Ministers' attention the careful wording that Chris Patten used on the day that the report was published. He warned strongly against cherry-picking from the Report. He clearly recommended that independent members should be selected to represent business and trade union interests and to provide expertise in matters pertaining to community safety.

Angela Smith

The hon. Lady picks out a point from the Patten report that will be discussed in the long and detailed debates on the Bill.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford welcomed several points in my hon. Friend the Minister's speech. I welcome his comments about the policing board and the way in which it has operated. I regret that I could not welcome all of his remarks. He accused us of underestimating the intelligence of the people of Northern Ireland. I assure him that, from the short time that I have been a Minister in Northern Ireland, I am not likely to do that.

The hon. Gentleman also accused the Government of easy card shuffling tricks. The issues are complex and such accusations are unhelpful. The Belfast agreement is not for renegotiation. He should consider how far it has brought us and what we have gained from it.

The hon. Gentleman asked about police manpower. The Patten report said that there should be a minimum of 7,500 officers on the basis of peace and normality in Northern Ireland. Paragraph 13.9 states that the approximate size of the police service over the next ten years should be 7,500 full-time officers. There are currently approximately 6,900 full-time regular officers and almost 2,000 full-time reserve officers. Since last November there have been 580 recruits and more than 200 are currently in training. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart and the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) and for North Down asked about the 50:50 recruitment policy and whether it applied to civilians. Paragraph 15.9 of Patten makes it clear that the ratio should apply to officer and civilian recruitment. It is a shame that the hon. Member for East Londonderry cast aspersions on the merits of officers who are recruited under the 50:50 policy. I assure him categorically that there has been no dilution in the quality of police officers. I hope that he will accept that.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Angela Smith

The hon. Gentleman has not been present for the debate and I am therefore reluctant to give way to him.

Concern has been expressed about 50:50 working. If the measure does not work, the Act makes provision for it to be set aside, but there is no evidence that 50:50 recruitment is not working. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked whether, if a Catholic trainee resigned, a non-Catholic trainee would also have to resign. It is patently absurd to suggest that that would be the case. There would have to be no such resignation.

The hon. Member for North Down made a point about intimidation. I take on board the seriousness that she attaches to that issue, and I commend her for doing so. Intimidation is clearly a major factor, and we all want to see it end immediately. There are other factors involved in these issues, however, including a lack of identification with the Police Service, and the fear of a loss of contact with family, friends and community. I have to say that a lack of encouragement from community leaders also plays a part. It is time for leaders from all parts of the community to encourage support for the police, and also for them to stop coming out with this nonsense that we have somehow diluted the ability of the police by introducing 50:50 recruitment. The PSNI can recruit enough trainees: 540 have been recruited this year, even though Patten envisaged only 370.

The hon. Member for North Antrim asked whether 50:50 recruitment would prevent the chief constable from recruiting officers from Great Britain. Such recruitment occurs at constable level, so the chief constable is not prevented from bringing in experienced officers from elsewhere, and we must ensure that we bring in such officers more quickly. If the policing board were to ask for an exceptional measure to help to facilitate that, we would, of course, consider such a request very carefully, but there is no obstacle to the chief constable bringing in on secondment officers from Great Britain at any level. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. He asked whether the ombudsman's powers to investigate would be retrospective; that is not our intention. He also asked whether her powers had been restricted. We do not believe that the draft clauses have that effect. It seems right, however, that, in circumstances in which she may play a similar role to that of the policing board—for example, in investigating police policies and practice—she should be subject to the same caveats in relation to information that she may seek from the chief constable.

I would like to thank all hon. Members for their contribution to the debate. It has been a helpful debate in the context of the Bill, but, without the agreement—some hon. Members have made it clear that they are very unhappy about the agreement and do not support it—there would not have been the relative peace that we have seen in recent years. I accept that the situation is imperfect, but it is certainly better than what we have experienced in years gone by. In my first week in Belfast, a bomb was defused in the city centre. On the Friday evening, I was stopped and welcomed by a Belfast resident who discussed with me what had happened that day. She said, "When I heard about the bomb today. I wondered whether we were going to go back to how it was." She told me how scared she had felt that this could herald a return to the situation in which she had grown up. She did not want her children to grow up in a similar environment. It says far more than any statistics I could read out at the Dispatch Box that she felt that her children's lives were different from the life that she had had as a child.

The critical condition that must be met if the agreement is to operate fully is that we obtain an assurance from all those involved that they are committed to the exclusive use of peaceful means. I repeat the Prime Minister's words from his speech on 17 October, in which he said that republicans must make the commitment to exclusively peaceful means, real, and total and permanent", and that we cannot carry on with the IRA half in, half out of this process". The fork in the road has come.

In our view, the future of Northern Ireland is best guaranteed by the fullest possible implementation of the agreement, which, crucially, means democratic politics, with violence entirely removed from the picture. That is what the House wants, and I also think that it is what the people of Northern Ireland want.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 298.

Division No. 14] [7:24 pm
Burnside, David Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Tellers for the Ayes:
Hunter, Andrew Mrs. Iris Robinson and
Paisley Rev. Ian Mr. Gregory Campbell
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Bailey, Adrian
Alexander, Douglas Baird, Vera
Allen, Graham Banks, Tony
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E) Barron, rh Kevin
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Battle, John
Atherton, Ms Candy Bayley, Hugh
Atkins, Charlotte Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret Ellman, Mrs Louise
Begg, Miss Anne Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Beith, rh A. J. Farrelly, Paul
Benn, Hilary Fisher, Mark
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Flint, Caroline
Berry, Roger Follett, Barbara
Best, Harold Foster, Don (Bath)
Betts, Clive Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Blackman, Liz Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob Foulkes, rh George
Borrow, David Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Bradshaw, Ben Gerrard, Neil
Breed, Colin Gibson, Dr. Ian
Brennan, Kevin Gilroy, Linda
Brooke, Mrs Annette L Godsiff, Roger
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bryant, Chris Grogan, John
Buck, Ms Karen Hain, rh Peter
Burden, Richard Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Burgon, Colin Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Burstow, Paul Hanson, David
Cable, Dr. Vincent Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor Healey, John
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Heath, David
Challen, Colin Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Chaytor, David Hepburn, Stephen
Chidgey, David Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough) Hodge, Margaret
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Holmes, Paul
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston) Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Clelland, David Hopkins, Kelvin
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V) Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Coaker, Vernon Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain Howells, Dr. Kim
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Corston, Jean Humble, Mrs Joan
Cousins, Jim Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Crausby, David Hutton, rh John
Cruddas, Jon Iddon, Dr. Brian
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Illsley, Eric
Cummings, John Ingram, rh Adam
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland) Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dalyell, Tam Jamieson, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jenkins, Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dawson, Hilton Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Dean, Mrs Janet Kemp, Fraser
Dhanda, Parmjit Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dobson, rh Frank Khabra, Piara S.
Donohoe, Brian H. Kidney, David
Doran, Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Drown, Ms Julia Kirkwood, Archy
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Edwards, Huw Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Efford, Clive Lamb, Norman
Lammy, David Prosser, Gwyn
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Purchase, Ken
Laws, David (Yeovil) Quin, rh Joyce
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Quinn, Lawrie
Leslie, Christopher Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Raynsford, rh Nick
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Linton, Martin Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) Rendel, David
McAvoy, Thomas Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
McCabe, Stephen
McCartney, rh Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John Roche, Mrs Barbara
McGuire, Mrs Anne Rooney, Terry
Mclsaac, Shona Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McKechin, Ann Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
McKenna, Rosemary Ruane, Chris
Mackinlay, Andrew Ruddock, Joan
McNulty, Tony Russell, Bob (Colchester)
MacShane, Denis Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWilliam, John Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Salter, Martin
Mallaber, Judy Sanders, Adrian
Mandelson, rh Peter Sarwar, Mohammad
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Savidge, Malcolm
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW) Sawford, Phil
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sedgemore, Brian
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston) Sheerman, Barry
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Meacher, rh Michael Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Michael, rh Alun Skinner, Dennis
Miliband, David Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Miller, Andrew Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mole, Chris Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moonie, Dr. Lewis Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moore, Michael Soley, Clive
Morley, Elliot Spellar, rh John
Morris, rh Estelle Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Mountford, Kali Stevenson, George
Mudie, George Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg Stinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stoate, Dr. Howard
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Oaten, Mark (Winchester) Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Neill, Martin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Öpik, Lembit Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Palmer, Dr. Nick Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Perham, Linda Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Thurso, John
Plaskitt, James Tipping, Paddy
Pollard, Kerry Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham) Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Truswell, Paul
Pound, Stephen Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Winnick, David
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall) Woodward, Shaun
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E) Woolas, Phil
Ward, Claire Worthington, Tony
Wareing, Robert N. Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David Wright, David (Telford)
White, Brian Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm Tellers for the Noes:
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W) Mr. John Heppell and
Willis, Phil Mr. Jim Murphy

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the enormous strides towards a more peaceful society in Northern Ireland and the significant developments in policing that have been achieved in recent years; further welcomes the changes to policing proposed in the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill; in particular endorses the Government's view that the time is not yet right to allow unelected ex-prisoners to serve on district policing partnerships; and further welcomes the Government's openness in sharing with this House and the people of Northern Ireland its thinking on how this might be achieved in the future, in the context of acts of completion on the part of paramilitaries.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have the Government approached you wishing to make a statement about the significant changes in the way in which they intend to deal with smallpox? They appear to have made at least two statements to the press, but none to the House of Commons. Could you ask whether there has been a mistake and the message has not yet reached Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

I know of no such statement.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why did the House not divide on the amendment to the motion, although strong voices were saying "No"? Has the House so little power now that even a tiny minority cannot express its freedom?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman ever has any difficulty in expressing his thoughts. It is for the Chair to decide whether Divisions are called.