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28 Oct 2002 : Column 570—continued

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I welcome my right hon. Friend as Secretary of State. I know of the great

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work that he did in the lead-up to the Good Friday agreement. He will make mistakes in the future, because the political situation is imperfect, but he will listen to the politicians and, more than anything, he will listen to people in the community.

Will my right hon. Friend keep the headline issue in mind as he undertakes his privileged job? Since 1994, when the IRA ceasefire began, many families have been able to stay intact because fewer people are in their graves as a result of the disorder. That is the success of the Northern Ireland peace process. The aim of ensuring that there is safety and peace in those communities should keep my right hon. Friend and others going.

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend, who was a Minister in Northern Ireland for some years and played his part in the development of the process. Anyone who returns to Northern Ireland and reflects on what it was like before the agreement will understand that irrespective of what problems we face now and have faced since the agreement was signed, the world has changed in a remarkable way. I started to take an interest in Northern Ireland when on the Opposition Front Bench in the mid-1990s. Anyone who compares the earlier Belfast, or any other town or village in Northern Ireland, with the city now will see the difference not simply in the number of people who have died, which is the most important consideration, but in the quality of life.

As Secretary of State for Wales, I worked with a successful Assembly in Cardiff and I know that the benefits of a devolved Assembly are enormous, as are the benefits of the agreement. It is not just what the Assembly has done in Northern Ireland, but the fact that people from Northern Ireland run their own affairs.

Mr. Quentin Davies: Used to.

Mr. Murphy: Of course, and we aim to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly is up and running as soon as possible.

Real achievements have been made and there is greater potential in the devolved government system. Northern Ireland has been changing rapidly and for the better. For example, there have been new policy initiatives on travel for old people, the organisation of industrial development promotion and the better performance of services for agriculture and health. The physical fabric has been improved with, for instance, the building of the Odyssey centre, which is new since I last worked in Belfast. I believe that people in Northern Ireland want devolution back and I shall apply all my efforts to securing that at the earliest opportunity. I am glad that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford and I have at least that much in common.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): The Minister must realise that the fundamental problem is the lack of trust in Sinn Fein-IRA. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) highlighted the improvements in Northern Ireland, but there have been increased terrorist activities in Colombia as a result of Sinn Fein-IRA's activities. Sinn Fein-IRA could not be trusted in Stormont. Can they be trusted here?

Mr. Murphy: Trust is important, but it has to be between all parties. Everything that might go wrong,

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everything that has gone wrong now and again and everything that went wrong before the agreement was signed stems from the lack of trust. That is not confined to one side, however. Both sides have a problem with trust, which has been the case traditionally and historically. Trust cannot happen overnight.

The hon. Gentleman is right to tell the House that events in the past months and years have caused trust to evaporate. The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly is a direct result of a lack of trust between political parties there. It is the job of the Government and Members of the House of Commons to ensure that that trust is restored. The motion does not help to achieve that end and trust between parties in Northern Ireland will not be helped one jot if the House agrees to it. I am not suggesting that hon. Members who believe that the motion is right are insincere, but it will not do the trick.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my right hon. Friend address the fundamental problem that there are two classes of Members in the House of Commons? There are some who accept responsibility to the United Kingdom and their constituents and some who do not. The Leader of the House may shake his head, but that is the case.

Does the Secretary of State accept that situation, because it is not only fundamental but extremely dangerous?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend raised those issues in a previous debate, and of course she is entirely right to say what she thinks. However, the motion that we are debating would perpetuate the situation, because if Sinn Fein agreed with the conditions that it sets down, there would continue to be two classes of Member in this House. The Leader of the House will deal with the matters specifically related to the House when he winds up the debate. He will have heard what my hon. Friend said. My interest in all this, which I am sure is the same as that of most Members, concerns the fact that if there is any action that the House can take to improve the chances of peace in Northern Ireland, we should take it—it is as simple as that.

Mr. Quentin Davies: I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the importance of trust. He said that passing this motion would not enhance trust in Northern Ireland, but when trust has been given, as it was given by the Government last December, and abused, should nothing be done about that?

Mr. Murphy: Indeed it should, and I hope to address some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman later in my speech.

Mike Gapes: I add my voice to those that have congratulated my right hon. Friend on his new appointment. I had the pleasure of serving as his Parliamentary Private Secretary when, as Minister of State, he played such a vital role in negotiating the Good Friday agreement, and his appointment is well deserved.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the agreement is not the property of any of the eight parties who signed it or of the two Governments but remains the property of the people of Northern Ireland because of the referendum in which they endorsed it? It is therefore

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foolish for people to try to play games with issues surrounding the agreement which could undermine it and reverse the progress that my right hon. Friend so excellently negotiated.

Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend. When he was my PPS he, too, played an important role in the events leading up to the Good Friday agreement.

As the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach jointly emphasised when devolved government was suspended, an inclusive Executive built on trust, along with the other related institutions established by the agreement, offer the only means whereby Northern Ireland can be governed in the best interests of the community. They offer a sustainable basis for fair and honourable accommodation between Unionists and nationalists.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Murphy: In a moment.

As the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach also stressed, it is essential that concerns about the commitment to exclusively democratic and non-violent means are removed. The time has come for people clearly to choose one track or the other. I know that the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) will agree with every word of that.

Mr. Robathan: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and I genuinely wish him well in his new appointment.

On the question of trust, is it the case that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness have been not only inextricably linked to the IRA but heavily involved in the IRA for several years, and they are probably still on the army council? Is it the case that Sinn Fein-IRA were plotting and spying in the Stormont Administration with a view to possibly using the information later in terrorist activities? What leads the Secretary of State to believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA are not using the facilities in the House of Commons to plot and to spy on Members here, including himself, with a view to possibly using the information later in terrorist activities?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman knows that it would not be right for me to comment on those matters because they are the subject of an inquiry.

Kevin Brennan: I echo the words of congratulation to my right hon. Friend. I have known him for some years so I will not go into detail, as others have.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be equally, if not more, dangerous to deny normal facilities to Members of this House, even if they have not taken the Oath, when they have been democratically elected in their own constituency by people who may not believe that they should be part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Murphy: The answer is yes. It would be wrong to deny the constituents of those constituency MPs the right that every one of us shares. I will touch on that matter in a moment.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): The motion seeks to deny access to this place not to the electorate in

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Northern Ireland, but to the people who were elected to it and who will not take their seats. If they do not take their seats, they cannot participate in the House. What, therefore, does the Secretary of State imagine their allowances are being used for?

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