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Northern Ireland Assembly

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

Substantial progress has been made in recent months, including a report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, which opens the way to a settlement at the summit at St. Andrews that will start later today.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The whole House should welcome the progress that has been made and hope that more progress will be made this week. Have any specific discussions taken place that will allow the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been forced into exile over the past 30 years to return to their homes in safety?

As my hon. Friend knows, the security situation has been transformed these last years under this Government, with not one soldier on the streets on 12 July for the parading season for the first time in nearly 40 years, and with last week’s IMC report confirming that the Provisional IRA no longer has a war machine and no longer poses a terrorist threat. That opens the way for delivering a political settlement, starting in St. Andrews today.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State aware of how damaging it would be to the prospects for restoration if the Government were to return to the issue of on-the-run terrorists being given what amounts to an amnesty? Although we welcome the earlier answer from the Minister of State that no legislation is to be brought before the House, will the Secretary of State reassure the House and settle the nerves of my colleagues and me by assuring us that no other procedure will be used to allow on-the-run terrorists to return?

There is no other procedure. There is no prospect of an amnesty. The legislation was tried; it was withdrawn when support for it collapsed, not least in this House, and we have absolutely no intention of bringing legislation back. That, I think, should reassure the hon. Gentleman. What we shall look for in the next few days is delivery—not promises—from Sinn Fein on policing and respect for the rule of law, and then a commitment from all the parties to a power-sharing Executive.

First, may I wish the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland parties well in their negotiations at St. Andrews?

Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that he believes that if power sharing and devolution are to be durable in Northern Ireland, as we both want, they must be based on every political party and every potential Minister recognising the authority of the police and the courts as legitimate, and giving those institutions full practical support?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. The discussions will be critical. The politicians have a window of opportunity, which may not be available again for many years to come.

I am happy to agree unequivocally that Sinn Fein and everybody else must sign up to the rule of law. Anyone who seeks to hold ministerial office in Northern Ireland must support, co-operate with and report crime to the police, and ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is able to do its job of enforcing law and order.