Clause 2 — Compliance or non-compliance with St Andrews Agreement timetable
Orders of the Day
7:32 pm

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 2, line 10, after '2007,', insert

'or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State,'.

Photo of Sylvia Heal

Sylvia Heal (Deputy Speaker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 44, in page 2, line 11, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 45, in page 2, line 17, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 46, in clause 27, page 20, line 24, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 47, in schedule 1, page 21, line 29, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 48, in page 22, line 10, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 49, in page 22, line 33, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 50, in page 22, line 40, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 51, in page 23, line 8, leave out '2007)' and insert

'2007, or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State)'.

No. 52, in page 24, line 39, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 53, in page 25, line 33, leave out '2007)' and insert

'2007, or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State)'.

No. 54, in page 25, line 34, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 55, in page 26, line 3, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 56, in page 26, line 10, after '2007,', insert

'or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 57, in page 26, line 22, after '2007', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

No. 58, in page 26, line 28, after '2007,', insert

', or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State'.

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I welcome the opportunity of moving the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend Rev. Ian Paisley and my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson and the associated amendments in the group. The purpose is to insert the words

"or such later date as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State"

after the date of 26 March, as set out in the clause. The issue of the timetable in the St. Andrews agreement has already been debated on Second Reading. I know that the Secretary of State was not present throughout that debate, so he may not have heard the contributions of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who made it clear that, as far as the DUP is concerned, we are condition led, not deadline led.

Devolution must be on the right terms, not imposed at a time set by the Secretary of State or by any piece of legislation. When devolution happens, the conditions must be ripe. We have made it clear previously and in today's debate that the notion of Unionists, particularly the DUP, being dragooned or forced into taking a decision on power sharing or devolution that does not meet the conditions set out in our manifesto or put before the people is something that simply will not happen.

Photo of Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson (Belfast East, DUP)

Was my hon. Friend as disturbed as I was by the remarks of Lady Hermon—the Ulster Unionist party's sole Member in the House—when she said that, come what may, the timetable had to be adhered to? Is the UUP telling the people of Northern Ireland that even if Sinn Fein delivers nothing, it should be in government on 26 March?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The hon. Lady's remarks—I am sorry that she is not in her place at the moment—certainly outlined that position. For some time, the UUP—a party that let Sinn Fein-IRA representatives into Government at a time when they had not decommissioned any weaponry and were still engaged in criminality, terrorism and even murder—has believed, as Lady Hermon has made clear, that devolution should be up and running regardless of whether Sinn Fein has delivered on what it needs to deliver even under the terms of the St. Andrews agreement between the two Governments. My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that, faced with that choice, the Unionist population of Northern Ireland will be reassured to know that this Democratic Unionist party will stick to the pledges that we have made to the people and the manifesto position that we outlined. We will also stick to the position recently conveyed to the Government by our central executive committee.

Photo of Lembit Ípik

Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

For the sake of clarity—though it already seems clear to me—will the hon. Gentleman confirm that whatever is decided about the 24 November deadline cannot be taken as an indication that the DUP is buying into the deadlines set up in the Bill for March?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it strikes me as a bit rich to be talking to DUP Members about signing up to deadlines when it is quite clear that Sinn Fein has signed up to absolutely nothing as far as policing is concerned. Indeed it has not only failed to sign up, but has retreated from what we were told was its position at St. Andrews. As to the timetable, the Secretary of State and other Ministers have told us that there are certain dates by which certain things have to happen and that if they do not happen, there will be consequences. When faced with the question of when Sinn Fein is going to call an executive, when Sinn Fein is ready to convene a conference and when the testing period can begin—so that Unionists can gain some confidence that those people really are changing and should be admitted into government—we are met with silence, evasion and vague statements. Time and again today, questions have been asked about when the conference to be called by Sinn Fein has to happen in order for a credible period of testing to commence, particularly if 26 March is not to be a meaningless date.

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

Does my hon. Friend accept that DUP Members are disquieted by the Secretary of State's evasion on three occasions of a question about the time that he believed would be required for Sinn Fein to hold its conference and make a decision on policing? That sends the wrong signal to Sinn Fein, too.

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

My hon. Friend is right—that was precisely the point that I was making. The Secretary of State and Ministers refuse to make any demands on Sinn Fein about the commitment even to calling a conference to adopt a resolution or a position on policing. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I would welcome his coming to the Dispatch Box now and telling us when Sinn Fein has to call its conference so that we can have a credible period of testing before 26 March. Again, he refuses to accept the challenge. We have noted his evasion and the people of Northern Ireland will be rightly concerned, as my hon. Friend Sammy Wilson said.

Photo of Jeffrey M Donaldson

Jeffrey M Donaldson (Lagan Valley, DUP)

The earlier intervention by my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson in the absence of Lady Hermon pointed up the contradiction in the position of the Ulster Unionist party. On the one hand it says that it wants the Government to stick by deadlines, and on the other that if the conditions are not met, we will end up with devolution through having people in government who do not support the police and the rule of law. Does my hon. Friend agree that the outcome of the scenario painted by the hon. Lady, if we accept the deadline, is reverting to plan B in the event of no devolution, which means joint authority? Is that now the policy of the Ulster Unionist party?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

My hon. Friend has raised important questions, which only the hon. Member for North Down can answer. I am sorry that she did not take the opportunity in the previous debate to allow an exchange about those policies. There is no doubt that the position of the Ulster Unionist party is that the deadline must be met, regardless of the conditions. We will not fall into that trap, which would catch only the most naive.

Photo of Lady Hermon

Lady Hermon (North Down, UUP)

I should like to correct the record, especially given that I was not in the Chamber when the first attack was made on me by Mr. Robinson, who obviously was not smiling at the time. Every time the Government move a deadline, Sinn Fein moves. It takes two to tango—the DUP and Sinn Fein—and there must be mutual trust. An Irish Government election will take place next spring, and it is obvious to me that every time the Government move a deadline and show that they will blink first, Sinn Fein also moves. That is the problem with moving deadlines, not that conditions are unmet. It gives a clear signal to Sinn Fein that every time it goes to No. 10, it can change the mind of whoever happens to be Prime Minister. That is the problem.

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

The hon. Lady appears to say that if one sets a deadline, the parties should stick to it and agree on 26 March to form a devolved Government. That appears to be her position and she does not dissent from it. Our position is that we are not bound by a deadline unless the conditions are right—unless criminality and paramilitarism are finished and the structures are gone, unless there is support for policing, the criminal justice system and the courts of law, and that is proved over a period of testing. We will wait and see. We will judge those matters by the action and inaction of Sinn Fein and the IRA, not by any dates set by the Secretary of State or in legislation.

Photo of Peter Hain

Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Sinn Fein position on policing. The Bill is crystal clear—it could not be clearer—about the necessity for Sinn Fein to sign up to all the specifics of policing spelled out in paragraph 6 of the St. Andrews agreement and enshrined in clause 7. The Bill is the first measure to do that. I would have thought that he would give credit for that. In my view, Sinn Fein needs to call an ard fheis sooner rather than later. I shall not get into discussing specific weeks or days, because that would not be helpful. The end process is that Sinn Fein candidates who hope to be Ministers must accept the pledge of office, as spelled out in clause 7.

7:45 pm
Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I am grateful for the Secretary of State's intervention, although we are well aware of what the Bill provides about the pledge of office on 25 March. However, he knows that, for the DUP, it is not simply a matter of making a pledge. Anyone who wants to be in government, especially Sinn Fein, must prove over a credible testing period that they are committed, not only in word but in action, to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the courts and the rule of law. He appears to claim that, as long as Sinn Fein signs up to a pledge on 25 March, everything in the garden is rosy, even if it makes the pledge or holds an ard fheis only on the previous day or in the previous week. That is not satisfactory to us, the Unionist people or the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mark Durkan

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the obvious question that arises from the Secretary of State's intervention is whether the right hon. Gentleman expects the ard fheis to take place, or believes that it should, before or after the election on 7 March? Is not there a crazy position whereby the Secretary of State tells us that the people will be asked to endorse a deal on the basis of the DUP talking about all the things that are not happening and that it does not believe exist, and Sinn Fein not having signed up to policing or held an ard fheis and setting all sorts of terms and pre-conditions? How are the general public meant to make sense of that if the Secretary of State cannot make sense of it for us in the House today?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. Some people might wonder in those circumstances whether an election will advance anything. If the Assembly is dissolved on 30 January and we begin an election campaign while still awaiting a conference on policing, does anyone seriously suggest that we can tell the people of Northern Ireland that we will be in a position on 26 March to achieve some sort of devolution including such people as members of Sinn Fein? Many people believe that the time is rapidly passing for Sinn Fein to start delivering on policing, criminality and paramilitarism if it is to be taken seriously through a credible period of testing.

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Peter Robinson (Belfast East, DUP)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State has specific powers under the Bill to stop the process if he is not satisfied that sufficient progress is being made for devolution to come about on 26 March? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will want to answer the following question when he responds to the debate: would he call a halt to an election process if Sinn Fein had not held its ard fheis and made a decision before the election period?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Mark Durkan has raised the matter as leader of the SDLP, my hon. Friend has just raised it and the House will expect a response from the Secretary of State to that specific question.

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Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. I do not judge the DUP on the matter. I should love it to go along with the deadlines but it would be pointless for me to push that. Can he conceive of circumstances in which the conditions that the DUP requires to be met could be fulfilled in the available time? Does he believe that it is possible? What would be the DUP's timetable for requiring the conditions to be met? Can he be specific, if possible, about what he needs from Sinn Fein for the DUP to believe that the conditions have been fulfilled in time for the election?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

Having castigated people for setting deadlines, I will not get into the business of starting to set them. That would be a grievous error. If we have learned anything, it is that we should not get into that game.

On the hon. Gentleman's first question about whether such things are possible or probable, I repeat what I said: with every day that passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince people that the necessary movement and delivery will be achieved in policing, criminality and paramilitarism and all the other issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East and others have mentioned already in the debate.

These are not new issues. They must be delivered on, but we must have a period when people in Northern Ireland are truly convinced not only by word but by action that those matters have been dealt with. If they are not dealt with and people are not convinced, we will again have another recipe for collapse and crash, and no one wants that to happen. When we move, we must be certain that we are doing so on the basis of some kind of real delivery, so that people can be relatively convinced that it is the time to move. However, we must also ensure, as has also been mentioned, that any new devolution process includes a proper sanction or default mechanism. If anyone does not fulfil their obligations, there must be an effective mechanism to ensure that the whole thing does not collapse and that the people who are responsible for the default are punished.

The amendment presents the Secretary of State with a choice. Is he honestly and genuinely saying that the 26 March is an absolute cut-off date and that he will bring the entire process to an end even if Sinn Fein has not called its conference or has not made sufficient progress on policing, because it has decided to draw out the process and to refuse to give and deliver on the issues on which everyone knows it must deliver? Is he honestly saying that that is the Government's position? Is it not more sensible to include a provision in the legislation that accepts the reality that, if the conditions are not right, we must continue to work with the progress that has been made to ensure that the delivery happens and that, at the right time, we can move forward on a stable basis with devolution?

We have referred to the issues during interventions. It is clear what must happen in the period between now and 26 March. There must be delivery by Sinn Fein in support of policing. We know what is in the pledge, but we also know that there must be delivery in terms of people supporting the police and encouraging others to give information to the police. People have rightly said that one of the litmus tests is the McCartney case and whether or not the provisional movement is prepared to give up people.

We have heard some discussion of the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein appears to be setting a precondition that it will not hold any conference unless it has a date from the DUP on the timetable for policing and justice. Sinn Fein requires of the DUP some agreement on the modalities of the type of department that will administer policing and justice. It also requires of the Government delivery in respect of MI5 and other issues. No doubt, it has thrown a number of other issues into the pot as well.

It has been said today—let me repeat it for the Secretary of State, who may not have been here when it was said previously—that the DUP does not regard the devolution of policing and justice as happening any time soon. It would be complete madness to believe that a newly created Assembly would somehow be made more stable with the devolution of such powers, no matter about the modalities of how those powers would be administered. For anyone to suggest that some kind of arrangement should allow Sinn Fein members anywhere near the administration of policing and justice in a devolved settlement is simply ludicrous.

I have said before in the Chamber and in a Committee upstairs how long that period might be in my view—a political lifetime—and I repeat it for those who think that perhaps I shy away from doing so. I believe that many people in Northern Ireland would be totally appalled at the notion of the likes of Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness being in charge of policing and justice. I know the reaction of the House if anyone were to suggest that those who were involved in the current campaign of bombing in London and Britain—no matter what words they might utter or however much they say that they have repented—should at any time be placed in charge of or have influence over the administration of policing and justice on the mainland. People would be absolutely appalled at such a notion. People in Northern Ireland are entitled to reassurance on that matter, and on that matter, we give them that reassurance. If Sinn Fein is upset by that, so be it.

Sinn Fein's argument appears to be that it is unreasonable to ask it to support policing while denying it control or influence over the police. To be fair to the SDLP and to large sections of the nationalist community, they were prepared to come forward and sign on for policing, to support policing and to encourage people to give evidence to the police and to join the police without any demand that they should have control over the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein makes a different demand: it will support policing when it gets control. People only get control when there is confidence in the community and they earn the trust of the community. That is not to be bargained with.

Photo of Mark Durkan

Is it not the case that we have no demand or requirement for the devolution of justice and policing at ministerial level? Clearly, the Good Friday agreement envisaged that, as did the Patten report, but it recommended the establishment of the Policing Board to do the job for a number of years, with the devolution of justice and policing to follow. That is why we want the devolution of justice and policing to follow the good work of the Policing Board.

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Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman says: the SDLP has views, demands and policies on the issue, but it did not make them a precondition for the support of policing.

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

That is quite right. The SDLP did not make such things preconditions for going on to the Policing Board or for supporting the police—I give it credit for that—but, as always, Sinn Fein wishes to extract a price.

Photo of Gregory Campbell

Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry, DUP)

Is not the important point not that all the democrats in all the other political parties are quite prepared to support the police without making any preconditions about getting their hands on the leverage of policing and justice but that only Sinn Fein says that it will begin the process of supporting the police when it alone gets its hands on policing and justice?

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

My hon. Friend has summed up the issue very succinctly, and people should therefore be in no doubt where we stand on that issue.

The other issues that need to be dealt with are criminality and paramilitarism. I have read newspaper reports and articles that no demands are made as part of the St. Andrews process. I have heard the statement made that it contains no demand for any kind of dismantling of terrorist structures, or that criminality is not an issue. Of course those things are included. That is why an Independent Monitoring Commission report is built in and why there is the testing period. If anyone is in any doubt about that, they should look at all the statements that have been made by members of the DUP in recent weeks and months in relation to all those matters. Indeed, people do not even have to believe the words that we have spoken: next time they meet the Justice Minister and Tanaiste, as he is now, in the Irish Republic, they can refer him to what he said about the continued existence of the IRA army council and the continued possession by the IRA of massive amounts of money—

The First Deputy Chairman:

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the amendments are about delaying the restoration orders under clause 2, and that the broader remarks that he is making about policing should be related to that aspect of his amendment.

8:00 pm
Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I thank you, Mrs. Heal, and I will make my remarks in the context of the amendment.

If we are to have a date other than 26 March for the possible restoration of devolution, it is necessary to concentrate on the conditions that must be fulfilled to allow devolution to occur. We have dealt with the policing issue, and I now refer to the paramilitarism issue that must be dealt with, which members of my party are on record as saying over and over again. On the issue of criminality, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim has made it clear that criminal assets would have to be handed over and those responsible given up. Those are serious issues, which cannot be swept under the carpet and will have to be dealt with. That is why the Secretary of State needs to consider carefully the 26 March deadline. Even tonight, some 10 weeks, including Christmas, before an election campaign begins in Northern Ireland, it is hard to imagine going from door to door and convincing people that somehow all those things have been delivered. I also remind the Secretary of State of the other outstanding matters that my party has brought to his attention, which must be delivered too.

I urge the House to adopt this and a series of amendments, which will build into the Bill a flexibility that anyone who considers the position in Northern Ireland objectively will accept must be accommodated.

Photo of Mark Durkan

I oppose amendment No. 43 and the other amendments grouped with it.

It is clear from the remarks of Mr. Dodds that the amendment is an attempt to ensure a dissolution of the key deadline of 26 March. I have no doubt that the Government will oppose the amendment, although, as we have seen previously, the Government's attitude on such matters has melted subsequently. The Secretary of State and Ministers have presented all sorts of measures as absolute necessities and unbudgeable requirements only to withdraw them subsequently. We have probably had more withdrawals from Ministers than we would get from an automatic telling machine.

That has created a situation in which the DUP has the expectation that the deadline can slip yet again. Unfortunately, it probably takes some encouragement in that from the fact that there has been slippage on St. Andrews already. As I indicated, a programme for government committee was meant to meet on 17 November, but it only met on 20 November for the first time. The week of 20 November was meant to see an ard chomhairle meeting of Sinn Fein followed by a clear statement in relation to policing. We did not see that. Parties were meant to indicate endorsement of the deal and a definitive commitment to restore power sharing. We did not see that. On 24 November, we are meant to get the nomination of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Instead, it appears, from what the Secretary of State said, that we might get indications. The problem—and I hope that the Secretary of State will address this in his remarks—is that the DUP will only take encouragement from that, and the later deadline in the process will equally be bucked.

I welcome the Government's saying that the deadline is an absolute one. If they believe in deadlines, however, they need not only to hold firm to the 26 March deadline but to clarify some other interim deadlines on the way. If there is to be an election on 7 March, are the requirements as to the conditions for that clear? Will the Secretary of State say, for instance, that we will not proceed with the election if either the IMC report is bad or the DUP's reaction to the IMC report is bad? Will there be an election willy-nilly, no matter what the IMC report says, or what the DUP says about the IMC report? If there is an election, what are the implications for the deadline of 26 March if a mandate is secured to defy that deadline? That is the conundrum created by the way in which the timetable, some of which is unspecified—not least in relation to Sinn Fein's position on policing—is set out. Do the Government require or intend Sinn Fein to have taken a definitive position on policing before an election? What will be the position regarding appointments to the Policing Board and so on after restoration?

Those matters could be sensibly clarified to remove many of the fears and concerns, and many of the calculations for partisan advantage, which would give the public real confidence. If people were able to join up the dots, and fill in all the gaps and blanks in the process, that would do more for public confidence than side deals and concessions in relation to education and other matters. We hear the DUP indicating that it is also looking for other side deals. The Government have a habit of making such concessions in the name of building public confidence. They will not build public confidence, however, if there is a question about exactly what the process and the agreement mean. They need to clarify what it requires, what will happen and by when it will happen, so that the public can vote, safe in the knowledge that those things have happened and will be delivered.

In supporting the Government in rejecting the amendments, I ask them not just to be firm about the deadline but to be a lot firmer and clearer about the requirements of the process, and not to allow slipperiness from parties, which will just result in Ministers appearing at the Dispatch Box to justify embarrassing slippage yet again.

Photo of Alan Reid

Alan Reid (Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland Affairs; Argyll and Bute, Liberal Democrat)

With the amendments, the DUP is trying to push back the date by which the Assembly should be up and running and the Executive formed. The timetable set out in the St. Andrews agreement is that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should be nominated by 24 November, and the rest of the Ministers in the Executive by 14 March, with power set to be restored to the Assembly on 26 March. If that timetable is not followed, schedule 3 of the Bill comes into effect, which would mean that the Assembly would be dissolved. The DUP amendments would allow the Secretary of State to let that deadline slip.

We have criticised the Government previously for allowing deadlines to slip, so we would certainly not be willing to support amendments providing for the expectation that the current timetable will fail. The incentive of a deadline, which, if not met, would mean that the Assembly would be dissolved, is needed to persuade the parties to move and to reach agreement. The Government must convince us all, however, that the deadline is real, as unless the parties believe that, we will simply not see agreement. The DUP, in moving the amendment, has shown that its mindset is to expect the 26 March date to be pushed further back. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear that that is a real deadline.

Photo of Jeffrey M Donaldson

Jeffrey M Donaldson (Lagan Valley, DUP)

Perhaps I can help Mr. Reid to understand the DUP mindset a little better on the issue.

The amendment relates to dates and deadlines, and today's debate has focused a lot on dates and deadlines. The date of 12 August 1970 is etched in my memory as the day that the troubles of Northern Ireland came crashing into my home, my family and my life. It was the day on which my cousin Samuel, a young constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was murdered by the IRA. He was the first police officer in Northern Ireland to die at the hands of the IRA in what has become known as the troubles. No one has ever been brought to justice for Samuel's murder. He was a young Christian police officer doing his duty. Indeed, my family received hundreds of cards from the community in Crossmaglen, and from Roman Catholics in Crossmaglen, expressing sympathy.

The local chapel in Crossmaglen held a special memorial service for Samuel, and for the young officer, Roy Millar, who died with him that day on a lonely countryside road in South Armagh. Little did we know then that, some 15 years later, in February 1985, Samuel's brother Alexander, a chief inspector in the RUC, would also lose his life in the mortar attack on Newry police station, when nine RUC officers, men and women, lost their lives. That atrocity saw the greatest loss of police officers' lives in the troubles.

I share those things with the House to highlight the importance of policing to me, as an individual and as a Member of Parliament representing constituents who have experienced losses as a result of the troubles and who carry the scars, which my hon. Friend Dr. McCrea referred to in his remarks, of the many atrocities and incidents that have unfortunately been the landmarks of the last 35 or 36 years in Northern Ireland. I need to know that the people that my party will be sharing government with in the future are committed to supporting the police and the rule of law. I need to know that the men who were behind the murder of Samuel and Alex Donaldson and almost 300 other police officers in the course of the troubles in Northern Ireland—whose murders were sanctioned by people who today are in the leadership of Sinn Fein—have crossed the line and embraced democracy.

My family did not get justice. No one was ever brought before the courts for those two murders, and yet I want to know that, for my family, we are going to get peace and stability for the long term. That is why the amendment is important to me. In the end, it is not deadlines that will bring peace to the people I represent, to my family and to those who have survived the troubles; it is what people do, it is the changes that are necessary and the conditions that we all require as members of a society that has suffered so much. It is the conditions being met that is important.

Of course, as my hon. Friend Mr. Dodds indicated, if Sinn Fein moves soon, we may have a reasonable period of time over which to judge whether what it says in its ard fheis is what it does on the ground in terms of supporting the police and the rule of law. We have not had a definitive answer from the Secretary of State this evening about what would happen in the kind of scenario that Mark Durkan raised: if Sinn Fein does not hold that ard fheis and does not give its support to the police and the rule of law before an election, what does that mean for the election? Will the Secretary of State still proceed with the election, or will it be postponed? Is that one of the moments that he talked about earlier when we run out of track in this process? There is a lack of clarity on that issue. Members of the Democratic Unionist party, who will be expected to fight that election, along with the hon. Members representing the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Ulster Unionist party, are entitled to know where we stand on that issue. If Sinn Fein does not have its ard fheis before the election, will the election proceed? Those issues are important.

Surely the Secretary of State cannot be suggesting to the DUP that, if Sinn Fein holds its ard fheis on 24 or 25 March, within hours of the deadline for devolution of 26 March, we should accept that as demonstrating clearly the bona fides of Sinn Fein in giving its support to the police. I am sorry, but my family and the people I represent could not accept that as a sufficient period in which to make that judgment call. For years, in district councils up and down Northern Ireland, when Sinn Fein councillors have been elected to office, they have stood up and given an oath that they will not do anything to support unlawful activity, but there have been Sinn Fein councillors who have been convicted of unlawful activity. They take that pledge, as it were, but in the past they have not always fulfilled it. We need to know that Ministers who take pledges in a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland will honour those pledges. Before that happens, we need to have a reasonable period of time in which to know that Sinn Fein has not only said in words that it supports the police and the courts, but has followed that up in deeds.

I say all that because I want to see progress made in Northern Ireland. I want to see this matter settled and a devolved Government in place. Despite what the IRA has done to my family and my community, if Sinn Fein crosses the line and supports the police and the rule of law, if the IRA ends its paramilitarism and criminality for good, and the structures of terrorism are progressively dismantled—and those things are demonstrated not just in word, but in deed—I am prepared to accept that Sinn Fein is in the Government of Northern Ireland and that we have to share power with it.

That is a personal mountain that I have to climb, and a personal mountain that the people I represent have to climb. Recently, in our civic centre in Lisburn, I had a meeting with some police officers. It was not a political meeting. We were marking the retirement from his post of our district police commander. I sat and talked to some of the officers. One of them was disabled. He is one of my constituents and he has shown great courage. He was left badly disabled as a result of an IRA mortar attack in Newry in which one of his colleagues lost her life. As I was talking to him, the conversation came round to the issue of Sinn Fein in government and its support for the police. That man, who will carry the scars of our conflict to his grave—long may he be spared to live—said to me that he was prepared to support the DUP going into government, but in circumstances in which it was clear that there was support for the police and the rule of law.

That is why it is important that the Government do not get hung up on the deadline of 26 March. I say in all sincerity to Lady Hermon that I hope that the Ulster Unionist party does not get hung up on deadlines either. We need people to stand together on this issue. What matters is the quality of what is delivered, not some arbitrary date that has been plucked out of the air. What matters is that we get long-term stability for her children, my children and the people we represent so that this time things are copper-fastened, the foundations are strong, and what the Secretary of State referred to earlier as the pillars or the cornerstones of this process are set in concrete, not sand. That is crucial.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North has eloquently outlined why the DUP believes that it is important that the process is condition-led, progress-led and meaningful, and that it is not simply about setting an arbitrary date. We are not in the business of crashing through deadlines simply for the sake of it. We are not the joyriders of the peace process and I should say to the hon. Member for Foyle that we are not interested in drive-by attacks on deadlines or anything like that. We want progress and a real settlement. We want to see the issue settled once and for all, whether on 26 March, 26 April, 26 May or whenever—perhaps on 12 July.

I hope that the House will give serious consideration to what we are about. This is not about the DUP wanting to get off a hook, because we are not on a hook. It is not about the DUP simply wanting to crash through deadlines for the sake of it, or being obstructionist. It is about making real progress in Northern Ireland and ensuring that people who have made lots of promises in the past, but have failed to deliver at the end of the day, really do deliver this time. That is vital for our future. It is vital that those who are in Garnerville today training to be the new recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and their colleagues who are on the ground tonight, whether in my constituency or any other part of Northern Ireland, know that they will not have to face what their colleagues in the past, in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, had to face with great courage and valour, but at a huge price. I do not want any more police officers to die in Northern Ireland because we have failed to get this right.

8:15 pm
Photo of Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley (North Antrim, DUP)

Schedule 1, paragraph 1 tells us that there will be a transitional Assembly, which will meet on 24 November. However, it does not say, as many hon. Members have tried to suggest tonight, that at that meeting nominations will be made for either the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister. Further down the page, the Bill states:

"The proceedings to be conducted by the Transitional Assembly shall include the making of nominations"

but it does not say that nominations must be made on 24 November—in fact, no business is set down for 24 November. Later, the schedule talks about the draft ministerial code. I would therefore like the Secretary of State to explain how the idea got started that all those nominations must be made on that date. Lady Hermon was eager to see what would happen, and I promised her a Paris bun, I think it was, if she attended the meeting.

Photo of Mark Durkan

The right hon. Gentleman may accept that many people are relying on paragraph 10 of the St. Andrews agreement, which states:

"the Assembly will meet to nominate the First and Deputy First Minister on 24 November."

It also states that

"in the event of failure to reach agreement by the 24 November we will proceed on the basis of"

other "partnership arrangements". Furthermore, the timetable in annexe D to the agreement states, under the date 24 November:

"Assembly meets to nominate FM/DFM."

Photo of Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley (North Antrim, DUP)

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is trying to elevate that bit of white paper, which was drawn up between two Governments and does not bind this House in the least. Only when it has gone through the House and become law is it to be obeyed. He is now advocating that, every time the southern Government and the UK Government put out a wee bit of white paper, I have to bow my neck to it. It will not be done. That is all I have to say.

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

First, let me make it clear that the amendment is not about putting off devolution or trying to avoid the hard decisions in which devolution is likely to involve Unionists. My right hon. Friend Rev. Ian Paisley has already made it clear that, as far as the DUP is concerned, if the conditions that we believe are necessary for parties to be able to participate in devolution in Northern Ireland are met, we wish to see devolution and we will participate in devolution, even with parties that we do not like being in government with—

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

Yes, they have made that clear. The amendment is not an attempt to put off the decision on devolution.

Mr. Reid seemed to be concerned that the amendment would simply push back the date for devolution. In fact, the amendment is designed to ensure that, if devolution is possible, it will happen and it will be sustainable. He was concerned about the failure of the timetable, but we believe that the timetable is likely to lead to a failure of any ability to have devolution, because it is set against a background in which there is no guarantee.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will not even set an expectation for when Sinn Fein should make a commitment to support policing in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman's evasiveness on that point will not help to create the conditions in which Sinn Fein is able to give the community in Northern Ireland the assurance that the party has truly changed its position on policing. It behoves him to stop that ambivalence. In the past, in the face of what the parties all around him were saying, he insisted that he would not set a new precondition for devolution, so he avoided saying whether Sinn Fein had to be committed to policing. That was less than five months ago. Now, he has bowed to the arguments and accepted that devolution is not possible without support for policing, but he will not spell out to Sinn Fein that it must give an early commitment to policing and prove that it supports the police.

If we abide by the timetable laid down, Sinn Fein could, as some hon. Members have said, hold its conference and make its commitment to devolution the day before the Assembly is up and running. Judging by the debate so far, the Secretary of State believes that, the next day, Sinn Fein Members could walk in, take a pledge and, hey presto, that would be what is meant by making a commitment to policing. However, the DUP believes that making that pledge should be the culmination of Sinn Fein's transition from a party that is opposed to the police, does not support the police, discourages people from joining the police and has been hostile to the police. It is the culmination of a process: first, Sinn Fein accepts that it has an obligation to support the police; then it fulfils that obligation by doing something in the interim period; and finally its Ministers make the pledge to support the police. The pledge is not the start of the process, but its culmination.

That means that time will be required. As long as the Secretary of State allows Sinn Fein to put off the day on which it starts that process, the timetable for devolution will be elongated. It has to be, if there is to be confidence in any devolution settlement that is finally arrived at. That is why the Secretary of State was pressed today to say when he wants Sinn Fein to start that process. Is it this month? Is it before Christmas? Is it January? Mark Durkan even asked the Secretary of State to tell us whether it is before the election or after it. We could not get a response from the Secretary of State.

The reason why there must be a testing period for Sinn Fein is that people in Northern Ireland—and certainly not those in the Unionist community—do not believe the words that Sinn Fein speaks. I sat as a member of Belfast city council from 1981. In 1985 or 1986, all members were supposed to pledge to support non-violence and to oppose the use of violence to pursue political ends. During that period, after they took that pledge, I heard Sinn Fein members justify the bombing of Belfast and defend the murder by the IRA of some council members and council workers. Their words did not mean a thing. That is why there must be a testing period.

Sinn Fein has established a situation in which there is no trust. We do not want a repetition of what has happened in the past two years. Let me give three instances, one of which has already been mentioned. The police raided the home of a prominent IRA man, where they found a laptop and money. He had been involved in criminality. Gerry Adams, the Member for Belfast, West, who does not come to this House, condemned the police and the Garda in the Irish Republic for raiding the home of a farmer, saying that he was being persecuted for his republican views and was only trying to make an honest living. The leader of Sinn Fein defended his criminal activity and opposed those who tried to bring him to justice for it. Today, ú1 million-worth of his assets have been seized.

A young girl was raped in Gerry Adams' constituency, a video was taken of her rape on her telephone, and the pictures were sent to her mother. When he was asked whether the perpetrators should be turned in to the police and the people who know their names should give evidence to the police, he refused to tell his own constituents to turn such barbaric people over to the police.

Two people were set on fire in their own home. The man is already dead, the girl is seriously ill in hospital, and the house is burned to the ground. Within the past three weeks, the Member for Newry and Armagh, who does not sit in this House either, has refused publicly to encourage anybody to give information to the police about that crime.

Against that background, it is necessary to have a period between Sinn Fein speaking the words of support for the police and showing that it is prepared to practise support for the police and encourage others to do so. That is why the timetable set down by the Secretary of State in the Bill is unrealistic. If he wants Sinn Fein to make a declaration within a certain period, I am prepared to listen to him, but as he has not been prepared to say when that process starts, he cannot expect the democratic parties to live by a time by which he says the process has to end. We must have a period for that testing process.

I am still not clear about the position of Lady Hermon. She is right to say that people in Northern Ireland want devolution and want to move away from the cynical way in which we have been governed, whereby things have been done to blackmail, bribe or bully people, even if those were not good policies and utterly contrary to the policies that the Government operate in other parts of the United Kingdom. Of course people want to move away from that so that we can make our own decisions in Northern Ireland through a devolved Assembly, but we cannot afford to ignore the requirement that the parties that will engage in that activity must have a clear-cut position on the police. The hon. Lady did not make it clear whether she believes that it is more important to have devolution or to have all the parties involved in devolution signed up to policing. If it is the latter, she should have no difficulty with the moving of the deadlines and dates.

8:30 pm
Photo of Lady Hermon

Lady Hermon (North Down, UUP)

Let me make myself absolutely clear. I am speaking not only as the Member for North Down but as the wife of a former Chief Constable. There are 302 dead police officers—members of the RUC—and I do not want there to be another. It is essential that Sinn Fein realises that it has to sign up to policing, but its difficulty is that every time a deadline is set, it is moved by the Government. If they cannot trust the other parties to keep to their side of the bargain, why did they play their last card? There will be an Irish general election in the springtime. Having listened carefully to every DUP Member, I do not have a clear idea of the time scale that is required to meet the 26 March deadline. According to one Member it is one thing and according to another it is a different thing. Will the hon. Gentleman give me a clear line?

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

I am still not clear whether the hon. Lady thinks that Sinn Fein can be in government without supporting the police or that the deadline is an important requirement. If she thinks that it is an important requirement, she has reached our position, whereby meeting the conditions is the essential requirement. My hon. Friend Mr. Dodds made it clear that we do not want to engage in deadlines involving dates—we want to ensure that there are conditions that are met. How quickly they are met will depend on Sinn Fein. If it holds its Ard Fheis

Photo of Lembit Ípik

Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

I am now clear about where DUP Members stand: the debate has been helpful in clarifying that. The one thing that I am not clear about is what, explicitly, the conditions are. It is reasonable for us to ask DUP Members to be absolutely clear about the conditions that they want Sinn Fein to meet in order to participate. I must press the hon. Gentleman to indicate for how long they think that Sinn Fein needs to be actively involved in policing before it is sufficient for them to regard Sinn Fein as having met the conditions.

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

How quickly the conditions are met will depend on the enthusiasm with which Sinn Fein embraces the democratic process. If it moves quickly in dismantling its terrorist structures and in encouraging people in the nationalist community who support the police, if its members give strong support to the police, and if, when incidents happen, it encourages the public to help the police to catch the criminals, the period of building confidence in the fact that there has been a genuine change will be much shorter than if it is done in its usual begrudging way. The time that is required to move forward will depend on how quickly Sinn Fein acts on its words. I cannot have any control over that, the Secretary of State cannot have any control over it, and this House cannot have any control over it, but Sinn Fein has control over it. That is why setting arbitrary deadlines when we do not know how or when Sinn Fein is likely to act creates an impossible situation.

For far too long, people in Northern Ireland have felt that what has happened, and what has been demanded of them, has been set by other people's agendas. Many people feel at present that the deadline of 26 March—the springtime—has been set not because the Secretary of State has made a judgment that that is the time required for Sinn Fein to take the first step and then move towards showing its acceptance of policing, but because it is an important date for the Secretary of State, who has an agenda and a timetable that he has to work towards. There are important elections and important positions to be sought in the Labour party. Some of the cynicism about dates in Northern Ireland has been driven by the belief that the agenda and the timetable have more to do with the political advancement of the Secretary of State or the political legacy of the Prime Minister.

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

I have a great deal of time for the hon. Gentleman, but he really should not debase his argument with such clap-trap.

Photo of Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim, DUP)

Well, the Secretary of State's reaction tells me more than his denial did. All that I am saying is that the issue is important for our party, because we promised that we would seek to deliver a devolution that was fair and workable. That is what we want, and we do not really care whether that will mean continuing beyond 26 March, or coming back on the matter before 26 March. We want to make sure that we do not have devolution that stumbles and starts, and that falls and gets up again. That did not do the people of Northern Ireland any good in the past, and it will not do them good in future. That is why the amendment is important.

Photo of David Simpson

David Simpson (Upper Bann, DUP)

Last week, I spoke to someone who told me that some 18 or 19 deadlines have been set in the Province, and all of them have been missed, so 26 March and the other deadlines will not make an awful lot of difference. The point is not deadlines, but what Sinn Fein-IRA will deliver. The word "trust" has been bandied about a bit by my colleagues today, and I assure the Secretary of State that the Ulster people from both sectors of the community, and the democratic, elected Members and others, do not trust Sinn Fein-IRA. If we look at the history of successive Governments, we see that Sinn Fein-IRA have taken them for a ride time and again. I believe that this time will be no different.

In the past few days I have been on a tour of south Armagh, and I visited police stations. I was shown seven or eight illegal fuel operations, but I learned today that some of them may now have been seized and closed. I visited a farmer who, two weeks prior to my visit— [Interruption.] No, it was not "Slab" Murphy's farm; I had an invitation to that farm, but I did not take it. Two weeks prior to my visit to the farm, two men with rifles arrived, in the dark of night, to kill that individual, who is a former member of the security forces. Of course, the Government will tell us that many such incidents are down to the so-called dissidents, but we all know that nothing happens within so-called dissident organisations without the say-so of those in the structures, or the authorities, of the Provisional IRA.

My right hon. Friend Rev. Ian Paisley mentioned a terrible tragedy in which two people were burnt to death in south Armagh. The young lady was my constituent, and I know the family well. She had a very large funeral. Three weeks ago, she was ordained as a youth worker in her local church. Republicans broke into her house and gave her such a beating with a claw-hammer that she could hardly stand, and then they set both people alight. I am sure that no Member of this House would get over it if such an incident happened to one of their family. She was 21 years of age—a child—and thugs, pure scum, came into her home, hit her with a claw-hammer and practically burnt her alive.

Photo of Ian Paisley

Ian Paisley (North Antrim, DUP)

It should be put on record that the lady came from an outstanding family of devout Protestant churchgoers, who are held in the highest esteem. The vastness of the crowd at the funeral testified to that. There is bitter hatred against that family because of their religion.

8:45 pm
Photo of David Simpson

David Simpson (Upper Bann, DUP)

I agree with everything that my right hon. Friend says. She came from an upstanding family.

I must say to the Secretary of State that I have no faith whatever that Sinn Fein-IRA will follow the democratic line on policing and the rule of law. I sit on the local district policing partnership in my council area, and recently the district commander gave us a report. He told us plainly and clearly that, in the past two weeks, nationalist community organisations had withdrawn from contact with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. They had started to engage with the community police, but have now withdrawn their support from the PSNI. There have been shootings at police stations and bombs in Londonderry and in my own constituency. That is all put down to the dissidents, but as the Secretary of State well knows, nothing happens without the authority of the Provisional IRA. No trust is felt by the Unionist community, and if the deadline needs to be changed, it should be changed, so that we can deliver proper democracy and devolution in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend Mr. Donaldson mentioned his cousin, and all of us in the Democratic Unionist party can relate to such situations involving family members. I have said it before in the House, and I do not intend to repeat the detail, but I lost four members of my family. I must tell the Secretary of State that it is difficult to go forward on devolution knowing that an individual mentioned in the House today was responsible for giving the orders to assassinate them; that is a fact of life.

We must resolve the policing issue. We cannot fudge it or run away from it, and any party that does not sign up to policing and the rule of law has no place in the government of Northern Ireland. We need a time frame in which it can be proved that the people concerned are coming up to the mark. Of course, there are other issues, too, such as sanctions, which have been mentioned today. We have talked about criminality and the structures of the Provisional IRA, too. If Sinn Fein-IRA are to become so-called democrats, and if they are to come to Stormont as devolutionists, why would they want to hold on to terrorist structures? All of us will have our opinion on that, but I assure the Secretary of State that the people of Northern Ireland will accept no less than the changes we have mentioned, and nor will our party.

Photo of William McCrea

William McCrea (South Antrim, DUP)

I wish to say a few words on an issue that appears to be precious to the Secretary of State and the Government.

Sinn Fein Members do not come to the House, but no doubt they will listen carefully to our debate, and some people will be quick to tell them about it. However, our debate provides an opportunity for everyone, including the Government, to take a reality check. We need a good dose of reality. When David Trimble led the Ulster Unionists the people of Ulster were served fudge every day until it came out of their ears and they were sick to the teeth of it. Issues were not nailed down, so the people of Northern Ireland are not willing to take anything on trust, whether from the Government or from Sinn Fein. By their deeds and actions shall ye know them.

The Secretary of State cannot tell us when a declaration has to be made about the security forces, and he cannot tell us when he expects the process to start—but we can do so. In the words of the hymn:

"The sands of time are sinking".

They are sinking fast. I understand where Mark Durkan was coming from, but if a meeting was held and that declaration was made for the election on 7 March, would that be suitable? Without such a declaration, the democrats would have to stand on people's doorsteps and say, "Trust Sinn Fein". A credible period is required, and if anyone in the House thinks that a declaration made at the end of February or March will wash with democrats, they are living up a gum tree. They had better come down to reality—that is the reality check that I was talking about.

The issues are extremely clear, but the people of Northern Ireland must be convinced. The Unionist population has been slaughtered by IRA scum, so they will not take anything on trust. They will not accept verbiage—it is usually garbage—from the sources of republicanism, and they look carefully at action. Lembit Ípik asked what the DUP would do. We have set out a list of things and we have tried to be open and honest. The Secretary of State knows that confidence-building measures must be nailed down. We have been honest and open with the Government; we are not playing games with anyone. The DUP is playing a straight bat and unless those measures are nailed down, 26 March is outside the field.

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

Anyone from Parliament, Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK watching our debate will be filled with bubbling enthusiasm for the prospect that the St. Andrews agreement will be implemented. Rev. Ian Paisley asked where the date of 24 November for nominations had come from. As Mark Durkan said, it appears in paragraph 10 of the St. Andrews agreement, to which all the parties signed up and which is the reason for proceeding with the legislation. I was asked where the date of 26 March came from. It, too, appeared in paragraph 10 and elsewhere in the St. Andrews agreement.

This has been a sobering debate for the whole process. The Government and I introduced the legislation in good faith, after all the parties, including the DUP and Sinn Fein, signed up to the St. Andrews agreement. I am not suggesting that they signed up to every comma and full stop, but they signed up to the broad thrust or architecture. Those dates were included in the agreement and they were endorsed by all the parties. If there is any attempt to back off from those dates or from the agreement, the rationale—this is important—behind the St. Andrews agreement falls. We could spend a great deal of time—indeed, we spent much of the last month with Sinn Fein and the DUP, who were winding each other up—heading for failure. I shall explain that in detail later.

The hon. Members for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) and for Foyle asked whether the deadline is real. Yes, it is emphatically real, not just because it appears in the legislation, where clear dates are set for restoration and for an election, but for another reason. There is no prospect at all of me, as Secretary of State, or the Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Hanson, or any of the ministerial team going to the business managers of the House and saying that we would like another emergency Northern Ireland Bill in the next few weeks or months because someone feels that they cannot quite deliver on the St. Andrews agreement that they signed up to. There is no chance at all of our doing that. Nor would there be a chance of any of the Northern Ireland parties being believed by Parliament if, after signing up to St. Andrews, we then came back with a fresh piece of legislation—a different position.

Mr. Dodds insisted that nobody could force or dragoon the DUP into restoration, and I agree with him. I cannot force or dragoon the DUP into restoration, and I would never try to do so; nor would anyone who was sensible or serious about this matter. I think that I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman suggested that the devolution of policing and justice would probably not occur in his political lifetime. That point has also been made by other members of the DUP. It is absolutely right for members of any party to demand of Sinn Fein a credible and sustainable attitude to policing. However, it does not help at all for people to suggest that such things might never happen in their political lifetime, if ever, and I will explain why. This is about building mutual confidence and trust, and they will not be built by statements such as those—I must be absolutely blunt about that.

The amendments are designed to achieve the one aim of diluting the deadline for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. If we agreed to that, we would be back on the same old merry-go-round: maybe sometime, maybe never, maybe we will get to March, or maybe it will be October next year, then when we get to October it may be the following April, then we will get to the following April and it will be the following October. This would go on and on and on. The problem with that would be that nobody would believe it any more. Judging by the contributions that have been made tonight, that is the problem that the DUP finds itself in. That is the predicament that we should be in if we agreed to the amendments.

The deadline of 26 March 2007 is absolutely critical. It was a key feature of the St. Andrews agreement, as enshrined in the Bill. We would not have reached the St. Andrews agreement without that deadline being made absolutely clear. Some hon. Members have already pointed to previous deadlines and wondered, perhaps with some degree of cynicism, why this one would be any different. I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that the 26 March will see the end of current attempts to achieve restoration. Whether that means devolution or dissolution after that date is the choice of the Northern Ireland parties and the Northern Ireland people.

I have been asked a lot of questions along the lines of, "If this happens, what about that?" and "If an ard fheis is not called by this or that week, what will happen?" I have been asked such questions by the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). In my position as Secretary of State, it is neither sensible nor in the interests of the process to answer "what if" questions. However, it is right to expect me to say—as I have already said—that it is important that Sinn Fein calls an ard fheis sooner rather than later. It has committed itself to doing that. It has already called an ard chomhairle, and it is committed to calling another. What matters now is that all the parties seek to build confidence and trust in each other, and that does not involve making the kind of statements about devolution perhaps not happening in someone's political lifetime, if ever. That does not build mutual trust or confidence at all.

Photo of Lembit Ípik

Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

I must finish these points before I take any interventions.

So, 26 March will represent the end of the current process one way or the other. Quite simply, there is nothing more that the Government can do. There are no issues left to be resolved that cannot be resolved in the next four months or so. If we cannot achieve devolution on 26 March after the efforts of so many people on all sides leading up to St. Andrews, at St. Andrews and subsequently, it would simply make no sense to move on. We would need to find other ways of advancing the interests of Northern Ireland, because all the remaining avenues to achieving restoration will have been exhausted by then.

9:00 pm
Photo of Lembit Ípik

Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

I stress that I do not condemn the Government's approach to the deadlines. I can see exactly why this has happened. The important point that has emerged from tonight's debate is one that any analyst could have seen coming. I refer to the clash between a deadline-led and a condition-led process.

Does the Secretary of State accept that all we have been given tonight is an explicit outline of the challenge, which is to come to terms with the conditions required by the DUP for progress at the same time as coming to terms with the deadlines that the Government understandably want to fulfil? If that is the case, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the real challenge between now and the beginning of March is to find a way of squaring the circle?

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

Of course, and we will continue to seek to do so.

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The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the comments of Mr. Dodds and, indeed, other DUP Members, about there being no devolution of justice and policing in a political lifetime. Is not the problem the fact that DUP Members feel they can make such remarks with impunity because they already carry in their pockets a triple lock, courtesy of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006? Does the Secretary of State agree that given DUP Members' comments about deadlines tonight, he was right to listen to representations from the likes of us about the need for a sunset clause to ensure that the changes the Bill will make in the operation of the institutions will fall if people let the deadline fall?

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Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. I shall leave the Secretary of State to decide for himself which of those two interventions to respond to.

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

I did respond briefly to the intervention by Lembit Ípik—very briefly, because, with all due respect, I did not think I needed to add any more. However, I agree emphatically with my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle—the hon. Member for Foyle—well, both actually. I think that he was right to press his point. If this process ends, the institutional changes for which the DUP, in particular, has pressed will collapse as well. They will disappear.

There are tough choices for everyone. It is not about bullying or blackmailing; it is about the time when minds must be made up. I am not directly accountable, I am not elected, but I do not believe from what they have told me day in, day out that the people of Northern Ireland will allow the show to go on for ever. Notwithstanding some of the points that have been made tonight, particularly by DUP Members, I prefer the wise comments that were made on the day when the Royal Irish Regiment was commemorated and celebrated in Belfast in the presence of the Queen.

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Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, Secretary of State, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Neath, Labour)

I want to finish this point.

On that day, I was sharing lunch with a former sergeant from the Ulster Defence Regiment. He described in graphic detail how he had survived two murder attempts by the IRA. He had managed to get away, and he described his experiences in breathtaking detail. But he also said to me, "Do not allow this process to go on for ever. I may not like the idea of Unionists sharing power with Sinn Fein, but I think it is time to do it, because they have a mandate. It is time to move forward on the basis that has been decided." I hope that the amendments will not be pressed, or that, if they are, they will be defeated.

Let me leave the Committee with this thought. There is a real danger that the voters of Northern Ireland will be turned off politics completely, because there is no longer any hope left in politics in Northern Ireland. The opportunity to restore hope lies in the St Andrews agreement, which, I repeat, was signed up to by all the Northern Ireland parties represented here tonight, as well as others. That is the mandate that we were given on which to proceed, that is the prospect for success, and that is the track we are on. If anyone wants to climb off that track, so be it. It will be devolution or dissolution. There will be no shifting at all on any of these dates.

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Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State had to say and we are still waiting for him to give an indication of when the Sinn Fein conference should happen. He says that he will not answer "what if" questions, but his speech was riddled with remarks to the effect that if the DUP do not do this or that by certain dates, this is what will happen. He is clear about what will happen in certain circumstances, but he refuses to make any demands of Sinn Fein and its timetable for delivery on policing, except vague statements that it should happen sooner rather than later. He says nothing about what will happen if it does not and he has refused to answer questions from Mark Durkan and others about what happens if it is not held before the election. We see evasiveness, shiftiness and a refusal to answer direct questions, while all the time seeking to blame others. The reality is that this party is signed up to devolution on the right terms.

The Secretary of State mentioned where dates came from. At the St. Andrews event and the agreement between the two Governments, the DUP did not sign up to anything other than the delivery by Sinn Fein-IRA of their commitments on policing. Since then, we have seen a reneging by Sinn Fein on those commitments.

The Secretary of State tells us tonight that people will be disappointed by the lack of bubbling enthusiasm for the Bill. People in Northern Ireland are disappointed, but it is because the things that we were told would happen in the wake of St. Andrews have not happened. Sinn Fein has retreated on policing. The people of Northern Ireland will rightly expect us to stick to our manifesto commitments that we would not jump first and repeat the mistakes of the Ulster Unionist party, which led to its electoral annihilation. The people of Northern Ireland expect us to keep our word on that issue, and keep our word we will.

Our amendment would provide a safeguard to ensure that the Secretary of State does not have to come back to the House at some future point with new emergency legislation. He sits there and pretends that once he decides that the process cannot be delivered because Sinn Fein has not signed up to the policing, everything will somehow disappear and politics in Northern Ireland will shut down. That is not credible and it will not happen.

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Jeffrey M Donaldson (Lagan Valley, DUP)

Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Secretary of State to read the results of the opinion poll published a week ago by the BBC in its "Hearts and Minds" programme? It asked a specific question about what people wanted to happen if the deadlines were not met. A large majority of respondents said that politicians should be given more time.

Photo of Nigel Dodds

Nigel Dodds (Belfast North, DUP)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that poll, because the Secretary of State is always keen to refer to the opinions of the people of Northern Ireland. He should also take on board the opinions of leading churchmen recently who, when asked the same question, said that more time should be given. Of course, every sensible person believes that if we have not reached a point at which everybody has made a commitment to full support for the police, the courts and the rule of law and a complete end to criminality and paramilitarism, we should wait until everybody has made that commitment and delivered on those issues.

The Secretary of State referred to specific comments that I made about devolution of policing and justice. I stand by those comments, just as my hon. Friends stand by their comments. The Secretary of State should not pretend that those comments form a new position. I refer him to Hansard for 17 May, column 1032, where my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson said that he could not envisage devolution of policing and justice happening in his lifetime. Later in that debate, at column 1037, I made similar remarks, as did my hon. Friend Dr. McCrea. So the Secretary of State should not pretend that this is somehow a deeply unhelpful new demand. It is on the record. That is our position and that is where we stand. Sinn Fein will have to prove to people in Northern Ireland that it is committed to policing, justice, courts and the rule of law without being given control over the police service. That can be granted only when the community has confidence, and I cannot see that happening for a political lifetime.

Question proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 319.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 and 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.