New Clause 1 — Independent Members: Declaration Against Terrorism

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 26th March 2003.

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Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 2:30 pm, 26th March 2003

If the hon. Gentleman is an aficionado of my speeches, as he appears to be, he will know that since I have been performing my present role I have been extremely, perhaps boringly, consistent. I am open to the charge of having said the same thing for a year and a half. I fear, however, that all too often events have proved my analysis correct. That is why I have continued to say the same thing.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned concessions. I said that the SDLP was worthy of recognition for its decision to join the Policing Board and to recognise the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. In that context, I accepted a number of things, including the Patten report and the 50:50 system—opposed, for sound human rights reasons which the hon. Gentleman will understand, by predecessors of mine.

The principle of my tactics in Northern Ireland is reciprocity. That means making a positive move when the other party does so, and rewarding virtue and good behaviour. What it does not mean—this is where I appear to disagree fundamentally with the Government—is making concessions to those who do not themselves make an effort, or rewarding bad behaviour or failure to implement obligations entered into under the ceasefire and the Belfast agreement. But that is what the Government have done, over and over again.

Sinn Fein-IRA have not observed their obligations to decommission under the Belfast agreement. The Government, however, have not just made the concessions that they were supposed to make anyway under the agreement, on the assumption that decommissioning would take place—such as the release of prisoners: I said at the time that it was a colossal error to make such a move unilaterally—but dreamt up completely new concessions, not foreseen or required in the agreement. Examples are the amnesties for on-the-run terrorists, which we were fortunately able to oppose successfully, and special status in the House. That is the great error of the Government's tactics, which they have committed consistently. The results have been disastrous, which is why we have gone backwards over the past five years.

The hon. Gentleman has heard me say all that before, and he knows that I am absolutely right to have done so. I hoped that the Government had finally begun to listen. When I spoke on the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill on Monday last week, I said that I would be only too delighted if any signs of recognition by the Government were welcomed. I said that I thought there had indeed been a change since the present Secretary of State had come on board—a decision, perhaps not made explicit for understandable reasons but nevertheless quite visible, to turn over a new leaf. The Government were now talking the language of multilateralism, of some degree of sanction in the case of non-performance, and of interlinkage—words that I had been using, and to which I seemed to have an exclusive right until the Secretary of State appeared on the scene. I went as far as to say that perhaps the gulf between Opposition and Government in regard to tactics was coming to an end.

I would welcome that greatly if it were the case; but I am sorry to say that, contrary to the hopes I expressed so clearly last week, the Government have done the reverse. They have tabled their proposals in the absence of any move by Sinn Fein-IRA to justify the concessions made to them. The Government had said, "This is what you might get if you perform, guys", but Sinn Fein-IRA did not perform and they are getting it anyway.

It is not good enough to say, "We still have the brake of a statutory instrument", because that is hopelessly inadequate. We know perfectly well that statutory instruments are a disgraceful form of legislation—there is no opportunity to modify them: we are not allowed to modify them. We in Parliament cannot make a sensible judgment on what moves are appropriate in such a delicate and difficult area of policing, and on the structure of supervision by the community, without seeing all the other elements of the package.

We cannot sign a blank cheque and hand it to the Government. We cannot allow the Government to fill in the amount when they feel like it, and then send it off to Sinn Fein-IRA. We must look at the package as a whole. Parliament must use its judgment at the time: it must decide what moves are appropriate, and whether it should accept the new clauses as they are or modify them somewhat. We cannot modify statutory instruments, which provide no security and no reassurance. They are hopeless for our present purposes.