New Clause 1 — Independent Members: Declaration Against Terrorism

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 26th March 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 4:45 pm, 26th March 2003

I will certainly look into that, and refer to the Policing Board myself. At the end of the day, it is a matter for the Policing Board.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East made much of the timing of today's debate—and I suppose that the essence of this debate is timing. However, I rather fancy that, whenever this debate had taken place, the hon. Gentleman would have made more or less the same speech, because what he said is what he believes to be right. Whether the debate had been held now, or after acts of completion, or later in the year, or next year, I suspect that he would have made the same speech. He referred to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in Select Committee—that the ball was still in the republicans' court. Of course, the ball still is in the republicans' court. What is different is the fact that we are debating these issues today instead of rather later.

Before explaining that point more fully, I want to clarify a small point with Mr. Davies. He said that the Bill referred to a "local general election". I can confirm that that means a local election. Why it is called a local general election, I have not a notion, but it means a local election.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford raised two issues that related to the timing, rather than the substance, of the debate when he asked why it was being held now and not later. Earlier, I said—and I hope that the House accepted it—that I am not making an excuse for raising these issues today. Why should I want to do that? Everybody knows that, when the texts for consideration were brought in, back in November, I made it clear that those texts and those clauses were to be considered entirely in the context of acts of completion by the IRA. A cessation of activity on the part of the IRA would mean that this part of the Bill would be enacted. It has so happened that the Bill has gone through its stages in Parliament much more swiftly than I thought that it would; and, on the other side of the coin, that the process in Northern Ireland for the re-establishment and restoration of the institutions has gone more slowly than I had thought. The two processes have not coincided. I suppose that I could have decided, with the House authorities, to move this Report stage debate and the Third Reading much further down the parliamentary programme or down the parliamentary year. I would certainly have preferred the acts of completion to have taken place, and the consideration of what was discussed at Hillsborough to have taken place, before we discussed these matters here, but that was not to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh said that this Bill is not simply about the clauses that we are discussing today. The Bill has been debated at length in Committee, it has been debated here, and it has been debated in the other place. It is an important Bill in its own right. It is a very important Bill for the SDLP, because it encapsulates many of the points that the party has made. Other parties also have a considerable interest, as have the people of Northern Ireland, in the Bill as a whole and not just in these particular clauses. Why should we hold up the entire Bill, for weeks or possibly months, in order for these matters to be discussed? Another important point is that the nature of these clauses—and they have been strengthened in the past couple of weeks—is such that the overall effect will be the same. They will not come into effect unless there are acts of completion. They will not come into effect unless we have agreement that those acts of completion have been dealt with.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford asked about what he regarded as the inadequacy of the secondary legislation procedure for dealing with these matters. He also said that there would not be an opportunity to modify the clauses; but the opportunity to modify the clauses and to introduce amendments is now, in this Chamber. This is where that is done, using the processes that we already have. Not only is that palpably obvious, but he and other hon. Members and right hon. Members have actually introduced amendments and new clauses, knowing full well that the opportunity for those to be considered was today—and whenever the other place will have the opportunity to consider them. For modifications and amendments to the clauses, this is the time and this is the place.