We continue to see dramatic improvements in the security situation compared to the height of the troubles, with paramilitary-style attacks on a downward trend.
I thank the Minister for his abrupt reply. With reference to the announcement from the Secretary of State last week that he would bring forward a date for the legislation on the devolution of criminal justice powers to Northern Ireland, what action will the Minister and the Secretary of State take to restore confidence in the judicial and security systems, following revelations about the murky and dirty underworld of mutual spying by the Government and Sinn Fein? Following the abandonment of the Stormontgate trial, for what were widely believed to be political reasons, what will the Minister do to restore confidence that justice will be done, and seen to be done, in Northern Ireland?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has been the policy of successive Administrations that the Government never comment specifically on security matters. None the less, there is no doubt that there was paramilitary intelligence gathering that the police acted to prevent. As a result of that operation, hundreds of stolen documents were recovered, more than 1,000 people had to be warned and more than £30 million had to be spent on protective measures. The rule of law will be upheld in Northern Ireland and we are confident that the decision made independently by the prosecution authorities in relation to the issue was the right one and that it was in the public interest.
I am not able to comment specifically on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I point out that it is absolutely essential to recognise that comparing last year with the height of the troubles we continue to see downward numbers of paramilitary-style attacks. The security situation continues to improve, and in relation to the issue that he raised, people in Northern Ireland are able to live in greater security than they have enjoyed in recent years.
Does the Minister agree that the radical changes that were implemented in policing following the Patten report, and in the criminal justice system following the criminal justice review, rested on the assumption that everyone in Northern Ireland, especially those who aspired to serve in government in Belfast, would support the police force and the rule of law? Does he share my view that it is frankly intolerable that the republican movement should continue to demand a place in government while it refuses to support the police, refuses to recognise the courts and refuses to uphold the rule of law in the Province?
We absolutely recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, and we will continue to work with all political parties to ensure that everyone contributes to ensuring a climate in Northern Ireland in which everyone is signed up to policing and security.
Order. Will the House be fair to the hon. Gentleman and to the Minister who is replying? Far too many conversations are going on.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response, but he will have seen the statement made by those in the provisional movement a few days ago that the publication of draft legislation to devolve policing and criminal justice to Stormont would not be enough for them to convene the special conference that is required for them to endorse policing and the courts in Northern Ireland. Will the Government maintain a very firm line and tell the republican movement that support for law and the police is a fundamental expectation of any party that expects to serve in government and that no more concessions will be forthcoming? It is time for the republicans to deliver.
We absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is essential for all political parties to sign up and agree to policing and criminal justice matters. In fact, that is a matter of common sense. There can only be long-term security in Northern Ireland as long as everybody, including all political parties, signs up to policing.