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6.11 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): This will be my last contribution to debates in this Chamber. My friend the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has just spoken about making his last speech on Northern Ireland, but I wish to remind myself that the reason that these Benches are not packed to capacity today is that things are moving in the right direction. If they were going in the wrong direction, many of these vacant places would be filled.

I made my maiden speech in this House sitting as near the door as I could, because I thought that I might be kicked out. I made some terrible mistakes, according to many people. For example, I spoke for too long and I was called to account by the Speaker for making attacks on certain elements in the IRA. But I learned as I went on so that I could come here and carry the flag that I believed I had to carry. I was grateful that people started to think that we must have an end to this matter and that we could not go on with part of the United Kingdom torn by such violence.

South Down has been mentioned, and I spent all my holidays as a boy in that area. But then the IRA burned down my father's house and I no longer had the privilege of spending my holidays there. I have been back many times since, however, and at the first meeting I attended there I mentioned that incident. I said to the people, "I'm sorry you burned down my home, otherwise you'd have seen more of me." A little old lady at the back shouted out, "It's a terrible shame." I thanked her and agreed with her.

The day has come when Northern Ireland must boldly face the simple facts. There are people in Northern Ireland who have diverse religious and political convictions, but they can live together as neighbours. When I was a
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boy, there was more neighbourliness than we have seen for many years. Something entered the hearts of the people that destroyed the reverence for neighbourliness and kindliness. The Ulster people are not a hard people: they are a loving and caring people. I am glad that there is no disturbance in the House today. We are meeting here in calm and peace, because that calm and peace is slowly but surely being established in Northern Ireland. We are making progress in the right direction.

Of course, there will be times when both sides of the political spectrum might feel that they are being pushed, but they need to keep their hands in their pockets and remember that it is our hearts that should drive us in trying to win the best outcome for our people. I am confident that, with the good friendship in this House towards Northern Ireland, we will come to a day-although I may not live to see it-when these troubles will be forgotten. We will not forget, of course, the price that was paid or the loyalty of those who stood against assassins, but we will forget the awfulness of the days that we have come through. As we move forward, we shall see prosperity in our land. A working people live at peace. When there is no work, Satan finds plenty for idle hands to do. I want to see more and more employment coming to Northern Ireland. I want to see the young people having every chance educationally to prepare themselves for the future. I want to see a real dedication from all our people, no matter what their politics or religion, as hard-working people and parents to make their family life a thing of blessing and sunshine, not a thing of tears and regret. I hope that that is what will happen.

On the matters of policing and marching, we need level heads. We need a calm appreciation of the facts and we need to do our best to ensure that our contribution will be one that will assist the people of Northern Ireland in making progress. I would like to see in Northern Ireland the same situation as in other parts of the United Kingdom, so that when there is a march those who are legally entitled to walk-and who do not want to cause trouble but only to declare their principles-will be able to walk in peace. I refer to both sides when I say that.

I mentioned the holidays I spent in South Down. I played with the boys in Killowen, who were strong republicans and strong Roman Catholics, and I was just as strong a Unionist and a Protestant. However, they came with me to the 12 July demonstration, and I went with them to the Warrenpoint Hibernian demonstration. In fact, the Hibernian people got into trouble just before their demonstration. On the night before, one of their drums gave way. They had no drum, so they came down to the Orange hall and got an Orange drum on loan. They also got a sheet, which they covered up and on which they roughly painted their Hibernian slogan. However, as they were going through Warrenpoint the next day, the sheet came off, and all that could be seen was "To the immortal memory of King William III" and "No surrender!" Everybody laughed; nobody got up and said, "This can't be." There was a general mood of good will.

That good will is going to be hard to build, because there are people with very deep wounds-I think of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley
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(Mr. Donaldson) sitting here, whose family I have known for years. I know what they suffered, and many others have suffered, and it is the same on the other side, but this I can say to the House. Northern Ireland is moving in the right direction, and this House needs to see that it encourages it to go forward at this time. We welcome the help of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland, chaired by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire. We also welcome the good work of the various Secretaries of State. Some of them we disagreed with and some of them we would have liked to punch at times, but we neither punched them nor disagreed with them in a muscular fashion, and today we are here in the quiet of this House.

I do not think that there will be a Division in the House tonight; I think that we will all feel that we are moving the right way. That does not mean that we have reached the end of the journey-far from it-but we are moving the right way. For those from this House who continue to take up their duties in Northern Ireland, I trust that these will become happier and happier as the days go by. Thank you very much.

6.22 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) on what is an historic occasion. The tributes that have been paid, with the appropriate degree of caution about the future, bring to mind the history not only of the troubles, but of the role that the UK Parliament has played in such matters, going back to the earliest times of our Parliament.

The degree of co-operation and good will that we have heard today is truly important, whichever side of the political or religious divide one has come from. However, those looking back through the annals of our history will want to consider the role played by this House and the battles conducted here. They include those involving Daniel O'Connell and John Bright, as well as the episodes during the 1880s involving Parnell, followed by the obstructionism and the violence that took place in this very Chamber. That led not merely to the suspension of Standing Orders, but to their being taken away from the Speaker and handed over to the Executive, an issue that we are yet to resolve. In addition, we then had the later period, with Carson, the Black and Tans, and the problems from 1918 through to the 1920s, and then again in more recent times, with the tremendous tensions that were built up.

I follow the right hon. Member for North Antrim in his awareness of what has changed in this House, given the relative calm of this Chamber-in fact, the complete calm-compared with the ructions that were once stimulated by the great passions that reigned over the questions of Northern Ireland and home rule. They included the break-up leading to the creation of Liberal Unionism by Joe Chamberlain and John Bright on the question of home rule, which sometimes gets forgotten. I mentioned home rule in an intervention on the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), but these are momentous historic questions and huge constitutional issues. As the right hon. Member for North Antrim has said, we are here in this Chamber discussing the devolution of policing and justice, with the reservations that have been made and the acknowledgement that there is a
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sunset clause, although I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) modestly underestimated the role played by the Select Committee on Northern Ireland and the degree to which those policies were developed under the aegis of the UK Parliament.

All I say by way of conclusion is that the Chamber may be relatively empty, but despite the ghosts of those who have taken part in these momentous occasions, with all the passions and the tumult in this House on the issues of Northern Ireland and Ireland as a whole, we have now moved so far that the right hon. Member for North Antrim was able to touch on his origins in this House and the passions that he induced, which he explained so clearly in his speech today. The transformation of the politics of Northern Ireland is not yet complete, but the bottom line is this: great progress has been made, and the one thing that one can say is that the beneficiaries are the people of Northern Ireland and our democratic system.

6.27 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Let me first pay tribute to my two colleagues who are leaving the House at the end of this Parliament. The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), has always been a friend of Northern Ireland. He has always assisted Northern Ireland, not only as Chairman of the Committee, but as a Member of Parliament. We were concerned about him at one stage-he took a bit of time before he managed to reach the House after the last election-but he got here none the less, and he managed to change the legislation to ensure that nobody else would fall into the same difficulties. He has been a good friend, and we very much thank him for his role.

My long-time friend and colleague, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has had a colourful career. We have described him as a colossus in Unionist politics. His name will be remembered in the history of Northern Ireland as one of the most influential figures in Unionism. His leadership in the most difficult times that we have gone through has been a major factor in bringing Northern Ireland through to the peaceful and stable society that we are now enjoying. On behalf not only of my party, but of the Unionist community as a whole, I rejoice in the fact that Ian Paisley was there, that he was able to say no when the question demanded that answer, and that he was there to say yes when the opportunity was there to make progress.

I apologise for my late arrival in the House, although I think that I have broken my record of speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3 o'clock and managing to speak here just after 6 o'clock. I flew over with one of our friends from the other place, Lord Kilclooney. He likes to ensure that my feet are firmly on the ground, and he handed me a copy of the Lurgan Mail, so that I could see what was happening at the grass roots, as I think he put it. I enjoyed reading about various events around Lurgan, but I was a bit shocked to see a statement from the Ulster Unionist Assembly Member Sam Gardiner, who gave his reasons for opposing the devolution of policing and justice. They can be paraphrased in one sentence: Sinn Fein wants it, so Unionists should be against it.

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Such zero-sum politics-sectarian politics-drag Northern Ireland down and back. We must recognise that it is possible to find a way forward in Northern Ireland that is a win-win solution, and that it is possible to have agreements on how we move forward in Northern Ireland that attracts the support of both Nationalist and Unionists. The devolution of policing and justice is such an issue. For 100 years, Unionists' policy has been to have devolved powers over policing and justice.

I am not sure about the thinking of Sam Gardiner, who says that we should dispose of the epitome of the Unionist requirement for devolution simply because someone else happens to want it. Carson and Craig would not have accepted devolution in Northern Ireland without powers over policing and justice. Brian Faulkner, a later Unionist leader, was prepared to do away with devolution because power over policing and justice was removed-recognition that properly joined-up Government needs the ability to enforce powers exercised in other areas.

The devolution of policing and justice is not only Unionist policy; it is Democratic Unionist party policy. In our last manifesto in 2007, we expressly told the people of Northern Ireland that we support the devolution of policing and justice. We gave them a commitment to work towards that devolution. However, we had two caveats. First, we required community support for whatever structures were proposed. Secondly, we made it clear that we did not believe that there would be support for the devolution of policing and justice, if there were a Sinn Fein Minister.

I believe that we have met those two conditions. I am not relying simply on opinion polls, although when they are going in the right direction, we all like looking at them. The two most recent opinion polls on this subject show that people overwhelmingly want the devolution of policing and justice. We went around the country, and I addressed public and party meetings throughout Northern Ireland. Not once, at any of those meetings, did anyone say, "Stop. Don't go ahead with this. It is a bad idea." We placed adverts in newspapers, and people had the opportunity to respond. I received one e-mail opposing the devolution of policing and justice, and when I responded to it, I quickly discovered that it came from a supporter of another Unionist political party, who would not agree to anything in any circumstances under our dissident Unionists.

There is support in the community for the devolution of policing and justice. More than that, there is support for that devolution from all the Assembly parties, and all, save one, voted in favour of it during the debate. One party, the Ulster Unionist party, did not. However, it made it clear that in principle it supports the devolution of policing and justice. In addition, in 2003, it reached agreement at Hillsborough with Sinn Fein and others to have policing and justice powers devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly by the mid-point of the following Assembly, which would have been September or October 2005. It reached that agreement when the IRA was still killing people on the streets, and continuing its gangsterism, and when the IRA and Sinn Fein were still attacking the police, would not recognise the courts and did not accept the rule of law. In all those circumstances, the Ulster Unionist party said in 2003 that there should be devolution of policing and justice. Indeed, one of its Assembly Members, who is happy to go in front of the cameras nowadays, Mr. David McNarry, said that that
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had to happen, and that there had to be a Sinn Fein Minister. In much worse circumstances and with a much worse deal, the Ulster Unionists were prepared to have devolution of policing and justice, but they have now decided that it would not be opportune now.

I believe that the views expressed by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) accurately reflect the views of the Ulster Unionist party, and certainly the views of its support base. Opinion polling by my office and by the Secretary of State shows that more than three quarters of its supporters wanted the devolution of policing and justice. I do not believe that during the subsequent period there has been a significant or appreciable level of concern about the devolution of those powers. Not only are they devolved in circumstances that command community support, but we have-I suppose that this is one of the factors that created that support-a significant financial package to assist us in moving forward. Without that package, we might have to dispose of the services of up to 1,200 police officers. It is a first-class financial deal that supports the overall devolution of policing and justice.

One of the differences since the days of Carson and Craig is that we have a different system of Government, which required more detailed negotiations that continued for a considerable period. We had to devise systems to ensure that we could safely and securely ensure the independence of the Chief Constable in the operation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and the independence of the judiciary, which is just as important.

I heard the intervention from the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). We must be clear that the Chief Constable's role as the Minister's chief adviser relates to the Minister's policy role, and that the Minister has no operational role in the functioning of the PSNI. The Chief Constable has complete independence without political interference in how the PSNI operates. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will defend the Chief Constable's independence as strongly as other hon. Members on these Benches.

The important factor in the devolution of policing and justice is that it completes the whole devolution package for Northern Ireland. People can now see the jigsaw completed, and the overall context of devolution. That brings me to the reason given by the Ulster Unionist party for not devolving policing and justice. The argument was that to some extent the Executive were not functioning properly, so there was no confidence in devolving powers to it. The reality is that parties that see themselves as opposition parties-we have the strange factor in Northern Ireland that Government parties see themselves as Ministers in opposition, because the smaller parties in the Executive take that role-may say that the Executive are dysfunctional and could do better. I firmly believe that they could do better and reach more decisions, but they have reached significantly more decisions than the previous Executive led by the Ulster Unionist party. By the end of the Assembly's final year, we will have taken twice as many decisions, and reached twice as many agreements as its predecessor. Indeed, it has to be said that the Assembly has taken much more difficult decisions than its predecessors did.

It is also worth noting that one of the difficulties preventing the Executive from moving forward was the fact that the devolution process had not been completed.
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It has been interesting that, in the past two Executive meetings, there have been more decisions flushing through the system than at any time previously, now that the logjam has been taken out of the way. Yes, of course we can do better, but we are doing better than our predecessors, and we are doing better month by month.

People in Northern Ireland do not want to go back to the bad old days of the past. They want to move forward and to see progress being made. They are content that we have a devolution system that has securities, vetoes and controls built into it, to ensure that no section of our community can be discriminated against. I therefore believe that we have taken a major step in moving Northern Ireland forward, to ensure that we continue to make progress and build on the peace and stability that we have, and, as we move out of recession, build prosperity for our people.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), the First Minister, for giving way. I want to put it on record that this Ulster Unionist representative in this House-for whatever time is left to me to speak for the party here-commends the Democratic Unionist party for what was a very courageous decision. Its decision on the devolution of policing and justice was absolutely right, and it cannot have been easy. I commend the party warmly on reaching the right decision. The people of Northern Ireland want to go forward, and that includes the Unionist people. All the Unionist people of Northern Ireland want to go forward with those of different political persuasions. Our common enemy-the dissident republicans, Orange volunteers and the like-would wreak havoc if they could, but they will not, because we will stand together in opposition to all paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Robinson: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I believe that she has accurately reflected the position of the Unionist community. I know that she very much regrets that the Ulster Unionist party, through its leadership, has placed itself along with the dissident republicans and Unionists.

I also recognise that the hon. Member for Foyle and other members of his party are not completely content with every aspect of the arrangements for policing and justice; they have said so. If either Sinn Fein or the DUP had been left to write the agreement themselves, it would have been a very different document. That is the nature of doing deals and reaching agreements. They are compromises by their very nature, and we need to seek consensus in order to move forward. The hon. Member for Foyle could very well have said, "We didn't have our thumbprint on this document, so we are going to vote against it or abstain." He did not do so, however. Although it was not as they would have wished, he and his party supported it in principle and voted in favour of it. I believe that that is the position that the Ulster Unionist party should have adopted, and I very much regret that it did not do so. I am glad that the Conservative Opposition in this House made their position clear, but I regret that they were not in a better position to persuade their colleagues in Northern Ireland to follow the route that they were taking.

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