Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords]

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 11th March 2010.

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Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 3:56 pm, 11th March 2010

Ah! The hon. Gentleman was declaring the same interest as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle.

We will all miss the contributions of Sir Patrick Cormack to debates in this House on a range of issues, but particularly on Northern Ireland. He has always taken a great and serious interest in Northern Ireland. It has been great to see him exercise that interest in his chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee over a long period. His contributions are at times robust and at times supportive, but they are always appropriate for the topic in hand. We will miss him, but I am sure that others will come to take up those interests, and it is important that they do so. He made his views on dual mandates very clear, and the House heard them. Again, the Committee's interest in a range of democratic accountability issues, including the importance of devolution of the institutions and ensuring that they are as strong as can be, has been important. We will all reflect on the points he made.

In the hon. Gentleman's conclusion, he made the extremely important point that although we have seen tremendous achievements over recent months and even in recent weeks, we should not just assume that everything is now completed. He referred to the Assembly as a fragile institution. It is still early days, and the culture of governance needs to develop further in Northern Ireland. As welcome and as important as those developments are, Northern Ireland politicians, whether they represent Northern Ireland constituencies in this House or in the Assembly, will still need friends in this place to take an interest, and to show support and solidarity with them. I believe he said that Northern Ireland will need good and firm friends, as indeed it will. However, we can look back over this week and recent months, and indeed the 12 years since the Good Friday agreement, with some satisfaction at what has been achieved.

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about all-party support. Although the process has happened under this Government, it has happened with all-party support for what we have done. He asked rhetorically whether the current situation could have been achieved as it has been without all-party support, and he is right that it could not. Our achievements have required the all-party consensus that we have sought to achieve here. That is not to say that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury does not ask difficult questions in Committee or in debates on the Floor of the House-that is the purpose of scrutiny in this House-but we have retained a consensus when possible, which has been essential to the progress that we have seen in Northern Ireland. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.