HC Deb 08 September 2004 vol 424 cc705-7
3. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

If he will make a statement on the peace process. [187645]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) and the hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Castle Point (Bob Spink), we are engaged in intensive negotiations with a view to bringing about a complete and definitive end to paramilitary activity and the restoration of the devolved institutions on a stable and inclusive basis.

Mr. Carmichael

Looking forward to the talks at Leeds castle next week, can the Minister assure the House that there are certain lines below which the Government will not go: in particular, that there will be no question of amnesties for those who are on the run until circumstances have been created whereby all those who feel unable to remain in Northern Ireland because of paramilitary threats are able to return to their homes; and further, that there will be no question of people being released or pardoned for crimes before a proper appearance in court?

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman is right that the issues that he identifies are dependent upon acts of completion. As the Secretary of State said here today and the Prime Minister said yesterday, it must be absolutely clear that any party that wants to sit in Government is not connected in any shape or form with paramilitary activity and that all paramilitary activity ceases completely. That is what we are aiming to achieve next week, and those are the preconditions for the restoration of devolved Government and all the other objectives that we all desire.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) (SDLP)

Given that for the first time in history the people of Ireland as a whole, North and South, have overwhelmingly voted for the Good Friday agreement, the Minister will agree that paramilitary organisations can no longer claim, as they have always done, to be acting in the name of the people. Will the Minister tell all the political parties involved in the talks that it is now the duty of all true democrats to implement the will of the people, which means implementing all aspects of the Good Friday agreement and not trying to renegotiate it?

Mr. Spellar

May I pay tribute to the part that the hon. Gentleman played in bringing about that agreement and, indeed, the much-improved situation in Northern Ireland? Although we still have further steps to go, we should remember that at the peak of the troubles 497 people were killed by paramilitary activity; last year it was nine, and this year, to date, it has been only three. That is three too many, but it is a major difference. The hon. Gentleman is right that the fundamentals of the Good Friday agreement are the basis on which the talks will take place next week. They provide the way forward that we hope to bring about at Leeds castle next week.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

Does the Minister agree with the conclusion of the second report of the Independent Monitoring Commission that Law enforcement…is far from normal"? In respect of the decision that will be taken tomorrow by the Chief Constable on the full-time reserve, will the Minister explain to the House how many officers will be available for operational duties in each district command unit?

Mr. Spellar

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman answered his own question in the way that he framed it. As he said, the Chief Constable will announce his determination tomorrow. I am afraid that we, and he, will have to wait on that announcement.