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Northern Ireland

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Northern Ireland.

I do not think it possible to overestimate the significance of yesterday’s events at Stormont. In effect, we witnessed the final resolution of what has for centuries been the most intractable source of political conflict in the whole of Europe, and its significance is not confined to relations within these islands. What happened on 8 May 2007 showed the world how “A Shared Future” can emerge from even the most bitterly divided and blood-stricken past—and we must never forget how much misery and suffering that caused.

Many people, including Members in all parts of the House, worked tirelessly to make yesterday possible. The foundations were set by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, with the principles of consent and power-sharing at its core, but seeing the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein going into government together on a fair and equitable basis makes “historic” seem a cliché. The fact that they have done it without the DUP’s ceasing to be the DUP, and without Sinn Fein’s ceasing to be Sinn Fein, is all the more remarkable.

When we all witnessed that now iconic picture of the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein together for the very first time on 26 March, we knew that Northern Ireland and the wider world would never be the same again. Since then, by working together, the DUP and Sinn Fein have shown that the greater good can be served without the sacrifice of either principle or integrity. Indeed, I was delighted that the first letter signed jointly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister asked me to leave my office in Stormont castle to enable them to move in, in time for yesterday’s first meeting of the Assembly and formation of the Executive. Never has an eviction notice been so eagerly anticipated or so warmly received.

Having met the First and Deputy First Ministers together, I have been struck since by their business-like approach to preparing for government and—perhaps even more remarkably—by their cordial and warm personal interaction. Above all, they have shown that age-old enmities can be overcome. That is truly inspirational, as we saw yesterday when they preached together at Stormont a common gospel of healing.

I am convinced that devolution is here to stay. It would now be as unthinkable for Northern Ireland to ask for a return to direct rule in the future as it would be for Scotland or Wales. Indeed, who would have imagined that, as of today, of all the devolved Administrations, Northern Ireland has the only settled Government in place?

The key to the future peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland lies in the shared future that the new Assembly and Executive epitomise. That shared future must go beyond the “big politics” of Parliament Buildings. Astonishing as the political transformation over the past two years has been, there is much more to be done. We must find a way of dealing with the past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors. Although last summer’s marching season went off more peacefully and with greater consultation than ever before, a global solution to parading still needs to be negotiated. I hope that the review team headed by Lord Paddy Ashdown will help to achieve that. There are still too many so-called “peace walls” that divide communities in Northern Ireland, and some parts of Northern Ireland society continue to feel isolated, marginalised, deprived and out of the mainstream. I am thinking especially of loyalism and its place in the shared future.

We have always said that we would support and encourage those who wanted to work to a positive agenda, who wanted to bring about change and who had sustainable mechanisms for doing that. People have a right to have their identity, their culture and their traditions respected, but if loyalism does not get into the mainstream and catch the tide that is taking Northern Ireland forward, there is a real danger that, despite the best intentions, the loyalist community will be left behind and further isolated, because no one will understand why there are groups within loyalism that still cling to an armed past. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando that they will end their paramilitary activity was therefore very welcome.

Guns, drugs and crime have no place within a community whose people want the best for their families, the best for their community and recognition of their core values. I want loyalism to play a full part in the new Northern Ireland—a full part in the shared future—as we should all want it to do, because loyalism anchored to peace, the rule of law and democracy has an honourable place in that future.

Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably since direct rule was introduced in 1972—the year when, as a student, I first visited. Apart from anything else, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a multicultural, multi-faith and forward-looking community, as evidenced by the election of Anna Lo as the first person of Chinese origin to become a member of a legislative body in Europe. That is not the only such first for Northern Ireland; it also had the first civil partnership ceremony anywhere in the UK. That is all part of the shared future.

The whole process demonstrates what relentless attention by Government and persistent negotiations regardless of crises, collapses and depressing stalemates can achieve, and that must give hope to those trying to resolve conflicts the world over. For generations, the politics of Northern Ireland has been a sometimes murderous zero-sum game of winners and losers. Yesterday saw an end to that, and whatever the challenges that lie ahead, they will be played out on the field of politics and democracy.

The Members of the Legislative Assembly who came together in Parliament Buildings yesterday amidst a great joyous mood of reconciliation carry the hopes and aspirations of a people who have yearned for peace, stability and prosperity, and who have waited so terribly long to see it. I know that the whole House will support all of them as we enter this new and exciting era.

May I first thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it? As the restoration of devolution to Stormont has resulted in changes in the Secretary of State’s ministerial team, may I also take this opportunity to say that Conservative Members will miss the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns)? Both of those former Northern Ireland Ministers have always been courteous and good-humoured in their dealings with the Opposition and we wish them both well.

I am happy to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Secretary of State’s words about all those whose efforts over the years made possible yesterday’s historic and moving ceremony at Stormont. Of course, politicians of all parties did their bit, but I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that peace today would not have been possible without the courage and sacrifice of the police and the armed forces, and the dogged endurance of the people of Northern Ireland over nearly 40 years of violence.

As the Secretary of State acknowledged in his statement, devolution now opens the door to enduring peace and genuine reconciliation, but daunting challenges nevertheless remain. I want to put questions to him about three of those challenges, the first of which concerns loyalism. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force was indeed welcome, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is not enough for the UVF just to declare that it has abandoned violence? It needs to show by its actions that it actually has done so. It must decommission its weapons, and decommissioning needs to be independently verified by General de Chastelain’s commission.

The second challenge concerns the future of the Provisional IRA. The Government and the Independent Monitoring Commission say that the IRA is no longer a terrorist threat, which is welcome news indeed, yet it remains a proscribed terrorist organisation on both sides of the Irish border. If we are to consider devolving criminal justice, including decisions about prosecutions, to devolved Ministers in as little as 11 months from now, surely that paradox has to be resolved. Do the Government believe that the IRA has now transformed itself into a kind of old comrades association that no longer needs to be proscribed? On the other hand, if proscription is still right and necessary, do the Government believe that at the same time it is right to entrust the criminal justice system to people who include those who, until recently, were active IRA commanders and who still maintain the strongest of ties to that organisation?

Thirdly, what steps do the Government propose to take to help Northern Ireland come to terms with its past? As the Secretary of State knows, there are nearly 2,000 unsolved murders from the troubles—2,000 families and networks of friends who have had no sense of justice being done. Thousands of victims and bereaved families will carry physical and emotional scars for as long as they live. At present, a number of different types of selective historical inquiry are taking place into particular killings. As the Secretary of State knows, responses to those inquiries are eating up a vast amount of police time and resources, which are having to be diverted from current policing priorities. I acknowledge the acute sensitivity of this issue and I accept that there is unlikely to be a quick or easy answer. However, does the Secretary of State agree with me that coming to terms with the past is essential if we are to build genuine reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and that that should be done in a way that puts the interests of victims and families first? Will he work now with other parties in this House and in Northern Ireland to see if together we can agree on a way forward?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s statement in broad terms, but first, with permission, Mr. Speaker, may I send my commiserations to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), at the death over the weekend from cancer, at the age of only 45, of George Dawson, a Member of the Legislative Assembly? He was the grandmaster of the Independent Orange Lodge, and his funeral is tomorrow. Also, I acknowledge that, because MLAs are today running procedures for appointing their committee chairmen and women, vice-chairs and other committee members, DUP Members have been unable to attend the House today as I know they would have wished to do.

In responding to the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I first thank him for the warm remarks he made about my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who played an outstanding role over the past two years, helped me and the whole process immeasurably and is hugely respected. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) has also done excellent work over this past year. My right hon. Friend’s remaining portfolio of the political process and criminal justice will be taken over by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who will do an outstanding job as she has done in the past year in other areas, and by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who has gained huge respect. He has been a fantastic security Minister, and he will continue to be so.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the outstanding courage that has been shown by the police and the armed forces over the decades of the troubles. He made the strong point, with which I agree, that loyalism and the loyalist leaders must do more than simply make promises, as the UVF did, in very welcome terms, last week. I have asked the Chief Constable for advice on whether specification is still appropriate for the UVF and I await that advice in due course. It was very important that the leadership of the UVF declared its intention to abandon paramilitarism and criminality in the clearest terms, but the hon. Gentleman was right to say that there has to be delivery on the decommissioning of weapons. There was a certain uncertainty about what that meant exactly, and the only legal way to decommission in the sense that will give confidence to the rest of the community—including this House—is to engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

On the question that the hon. Gentleman raised about the future of the Provisional IRA, he will know that the IMC made a particular point of saying not just that it had disbanded its paramilitary capacity and its engineering capacity to wage terror or war or violence in the future, but that the leadership had also, through the discipline of its organisation, managed to deliver that and get all the members and so-called volunteers to abide by its diktat, including ending criminality. The IMC was clear on that point. Obviously, there need to be further developments, but the intention to devolve policing and justice is an ambition of the Government’s, agreed at St. Andrews and repeated since.

We would like to see a target of May next year, by which time the devolution of policing and justice can be achieved. That policy is supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland, although there are disagreements, especially among the DUP and the UUP about whether the target of barely a year’s time is achievable. Let us see whether the incredible pace of change over the past few weeks, expressed yesterday—and, in a sense, sanctified yesterday—can see that progress being made. Undoubtedly, that will have to take into account the wider security situation.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sinn Fein Ministers, and it was significant yesterday that they willingly and without qualification took the pledge of office, which included an absolute commitment, as the House legislated in the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, to support the police and the rule of law.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point about the past, and that is why I said in my statement that the past still has to be addressed. I was very struck, as I know he will have been on his frequent visits—people appreciate the diligence with which he pursues his duties—by the fact that, despite the incredible events that led up to the remarkable nature of yesterday, Northern Ireland still keeps getting dragged back to the past. Although inquiries must naturally reach their end—costing £2 million so far; £100 million has gone to pay lawyers’ fees, which are ratcheting up astronomically day by day—I do not think that they will deal with the past, whatever may emerge from the reports that are produced. We need to have a frank debate and I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman a categoric assurance that we are considering the issue. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries and I will look into that and consult widely with the parties, and I will certainly talk to other parties about it, including the hon. Gentleman’s. We must try to find a way of consulting that enables us to move forward and underpins the developments of yesterday. I am grateful for his support.

I very much welcome the wholesome and full statement made by the Secretary of State to reflect what happened at Stormont yesterday. It was a day that I have longed to see throughout the time that I have been in public office—and I have held office for some four decades, during the worst of the troubles. Enormous progress has been made.

Like those who spoke yesterday, the Secretary of State was right to remember the victims and survivors in our society. They must be remembered, as must the fact that some of the people who hold the highest office have been purveyors of hatred and perpetrators of violence. They in turn must do all in their power to undo their evil deeds and attitudes. I hope that the Secretary of State will use his office to facilitate that.

In his statement, the Secretary of State said that we had witnessed the “final resolution” of the problems in Northern Ireland, but does he agree with the First Minister, who said yesterday that we were at the beginning of the resolution of our problems, and that yesterday was a new beginning? Also, does he agree that the shared future to which he referred, and to which we all aspire, is one that must be shared not only by the extremes but by the entire community?

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Chancellor makes available a reasonable financial package to assist progress in Northern Ireland? We do not have a begging-bowl attitude but, over 35 years of direct rule, much of our infrastructure has been neglected or, at the very least, not been kept up to standard. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take on board the points that I have made.

I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Yesterday closed the door on the past and opened the door to a new future, but there are still many challenges ahead. I agree too that the shared future must involve everyone, and not just the most polarised parts of the politics.

I pay special tribute to the role played by the hon. Gentleman and his Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues. They were there right at the beginning of the process, along with members of the Ulster Unionist party. I should also like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and her colleagues. David Trimble and others showed tremendous courage at the beginning of the process, and took a lot of hits for doing so, but the SDLP deserves particular praise for expressing its support for policing at a time when that was a most difficult thing to do in nationalist communities. That helped to create the circumstances that were signalled and symbolised so momentously yesterday.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) asked about a financial package, and he is right to say that that has nothing to do with a begging-bowl mentality. It is about giving the new Executive a flying start and the best possible financial platform from which to deliver for the voters, so many of whom made it clear in the elections in February and March that they wanted devolution to be successful and local politicians to take charge. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is very aware of that, and big progress has been made even over the past few days. I am sure that a satisfactory package can be finalised.

As the longest serving Northern Ireland spokesperson for any mainland party, I have seen the peace process from its difficult beginning to its happier end. In those 10 years, as the Government’s critical friend and ally, I never lost faith. In that context, I applaud the current Secretary of State—and especially his predecessor the late Mo Mowlam, without whom the peace process would never really have got off the ground.

I also add my praise for the contribution made by David Trimble, which has never really been fully appreciated by the House at large. In addition, we should acknowledge that this is a truly valuable part of the Prime Minister’s legacy, and something of which he can be proud.

The unsung heroes of the peace process are the members of the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. Their contribution far exceeds the size of their party, and it is important to give them the recognition that they are due.

Looking ahead, what changes will there be in the way in which Northern Ireland business is handled here? Will the Secretary of State confirm that important decisions affecting Northern Ireland will no longer be taken after short debates on unamendable orders in Statutory Instrument Committees? Surely they are a thing of the past. What is the Secretary of State’s role going to be? Does he intend to continue administering legislation from Westminster, or will he disengage his Department by creating direct links between Whitehall Departments and the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Ministers? Finally, will the Secretary of State make available significant funds to facilitate true progress towards integrated education and health services, and to provide much needed infrastructure?

It is a good time to be generous, now that Northern Ireland politicians have made the hardest investment. They have replaced heartbreak and division with a shared future, where the bombs and gunshots are the echoes of a tragic past that we must never forget, or relive.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I thank him for the bipartisan support that he has given to the Government over the years that he has held the Northern Ireland portfolio. I also thank his party colleagues, as their contribution has been extremely valuable.

I agree that the Alliance party politicians have made a big contribution. They continue to do so: it is significant that the party gained at the last election, even though many people had predicted that it would lose members and even be almost extinguished. Earlier, I mentioned the election of Anna Lo, which says something about the new Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my predecessors, and I paid tribute to them on Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) Bill, and in passing in my statement today. I should like to single out my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), from whom I took over. During a difficult period, he did an enormous amount of the spade work needed to bring people together for the 2004 Leeds Castle talks. Were it not for the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney and so on, he might have been the one to make the statement that I have made today. We are all in his debt for the work that he did. That work lasted longer than the three years for which he was Secretary of State: my right hon. Friend worked with Mo Mowlam right at the beginning, when the Good Friday agreement was negotiated. Those who know the detail of the period know that he did a great deal of the leg work and heavy lifting at that time.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked about Northern Ireland business in the House. Obviously, the ministerial team still has a considerable amount of important business to do. I shall have an overview of security and justice and of the political process, while the Northern Ireland Office will retain responsibility for the Prison Service, the probation service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and so on. Those are proper matters for us to undertake, and we will continue to engage with our ministerial opposite numbers.

In that connection, I remind the House that I am also Secretary of State for Wales. I believe that the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, especially once the devolution of policing and justice has taken place, will increasingly resemble the role of the Secretary of State for Wales—that is, being a facilitator and interlocutor for the devolved Governments, and the person who assists them in their ambitions.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about Orders in Council. Obviously, their numbers will diminish to a considerable degree, but some will still be brought forward, for example in the implementation of the devolution of justice and policing provisions that have been passed by this House already. There will be Orders in Council procedures to implement those provisions when the Assembly decides that it wants to accept that devolution. Therefore, Orders in Council will still have a role, and I hope that we will be able to carry on working with the hon. Gentleman. I hope too that he will not suffer an allergic reaction, as it were, to every Order in Council necessary to take Northern Ireland forward. However, I am sure that he will be relieved to know that there will be fewer and fewer of them.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and many others, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that all of us on the Labour Benches are very pleased indeed that the name of Mo Mowlam has been mentioned today? She was a politician of great political courage, as she showed time and again when she was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after we came into office. Does he agree that one other person should be mentioned? John Hume, who initiated the talks between his party—the Social Democratic and Labour party—and Sinn Fein, was often denounced by some people in Northern Ireland and perhaps here, but he pioneered the process that led to what happened yesterday in Northern Ireland.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about Mo Mowlam’s crucial and healing response and the role that she played at the beginning and about John Hume’s outstanding courage from the moment he engaged with Gerry Adams. The way in which John Hume drove the process through, and his vision and eloquence, helped to get us to where we are. On the Second Reading of the emergency legislation on 27 March, I paid tribute to all the individuals that my hon. Friend has mentioned and to John Major, the Prime Minister and many others who played a crucial role. I did not think it was right to repeat what I said, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

May I say on behalf of the remaining Ulster Unionist Members in the House that I am unanimous in welcoming what happened yesterday? The Secretary of State is correct: we did take hits. But, having said that, I welcome enormously the events of yesterday at Stormont. I would like to place on the record thanks on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party to various and successive Secretaries of State and direct rule Ministers, who may be leaving us on account of the restoration of devolution. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for putting on the record a tribute to George Dawson MLA and for sending his condolences to the family. His death was a very sad loss to the Democratic Unionist party—the alternative Unionist party—and a huge loss to his wife and two daughters.

I need an assurance on one particular matter, please. I am talking about the fact, and it is a fact, that the new First Minister, whom I welcome warmly to his position, as I do the Deputy First Minister—I look forward with great expectation and interest to seeing how they work together—is the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. That Church teaches that homosexuality is evil. Will the Secretary of State kindly give assurances to the many young and not so young gay and lesbian people and transsexuals in Northern Ireland that, in the forthcoming new, rosy Northern Ireland, there will be no diminution or erosion of the rights and protections that are extended to them?

On the hon. Lady’s latter point, the legislation, including the somewhat controversial legislation that I and my ministerial team took through Parliament earlier this year, makes it completely impossible to exercise any discrimination against people on the grounds of sexuality, adding to the other grounds already in the statute in Northern Ireland. That answers her point.

The hon. Lady said that, representing the UUP, she was unanimous. I have to say that she is unanimously admired and held in affection by all Members of the House. I thank her for what she said about George Dawson. I remember him being at the first ever meeting of the loyal orders with any Secretary of State—I think he was helpful in facilitating that—which I held with them last year. He helped to achieve a situation in which greater trust was built around parading.

May I add my words of condolence about George Dawson and tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, how much I have admired the work that they have put in, particularly in the last year or so, on what has now been achieved in Northern Ireland? May I also mention those members of the Conservative party, including Sir John Major and the Ministers who handed their baton to me when we took over in 1997, who worked to bring about peace in Northern Ireland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said, although it is absolutely right to pay particular tribute to Sinn Fein and the DUP for the enormous amount of work that they have put into the settlement, the Good Friday agreement was about the inclusivity of all parties in Northern Ireland, including the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist party, because they hold ministries, the Alliance party and the Progressive Unionist party? In this new devolved Northern Ireland, they too will play an important role in making Northern Ireland a more prosperous and stable place in which to live.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all that he has said. I want to echo and underline the points that he made about the inclusivity of the process in relation to all the parties, including the SDLP and the UUP—which are in government with Sinn Fein and the DUP—the Alliance party, the Greens and everybody else, although people will not think I am churlish when I say I am glad that that does not include the independent Unionist party anymore. He is right to say that the Good Friday agreement included all parties, and that is very important. That spirit should be taken forward. I think that this situation will stick because the two most polarised parties have agreed. The problem that the SDLP and the UUP faced in the past was that there were people further away from the centre on both sides who in one way or another undermined what they were trying to do and were not in the tent. What is good about the current situation—this is why I believe this is the political end game in a real sense—is that the two most polarised parties are included. They must remember that all parties are part of the Good Friday process, as my right hon. Friend has emphasised.

In this momentous and splendid week for Northern Ireland—a week that many of us, in the bleakest moments, thought would never actually happen—does the Secretary of State think that it is worth reflecting that patience really has been a virtue? It would have been all too easy at times to have compromised with the men of violence. The fact that that did not happen has meant that this can now be a lasting peace. He and his Ministers are to be congratulated on their patience.

I am particularly grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, given his role over the years and his interest and experience. Even though I, as the person to whom the baton fell as Secretary of State at this particular time, was increasingly optimistic that things would work over the last few months—the hon. Member for Aylesbury knows that I have been optimistic throughout—nevertheless many of us never believed that we would see what we have seen, in the visual pictures and in every other respect.

The right hon. Gentleman’s point about patience being a virtue is right. I made a point, using other terminology, about the doggedness of trying whatever device one could use or opportunity one could find to keep going and keep the process alive, even in the bleakest moments—my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen knew many of those during his period as Secretary of State and before as Minister of State. There were high points and there were very low points. This process can be a bit of a model for other processes around the world. People have given the middle east attention from time to time, but there has not been the same relentless forensic attention as there has been in Northern Ireland. That was started by Conservative Governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and carried on—I think everybody will agree—by the Prime Minister and his Secretaries of State and Ministers with tremendous verve, dynamism and energy. That needs to be recognised.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the achievements yesterday and on the whole process. It really is a quite incredible achievement altogether. Will he acknowledge that those people who managed to maintain a dialogue with all sections of the community, including the nationalist communities, in the 1970s and 1980s played an important part in opening the doors, and that the Hume-Adams accord was an important step towards bringing about the Good Friday agreement? Will he acknowledge that the origins of the troubles in 1968, and all the awful conflict that went on after that and all the deaths that resulted, lie partly in the exclusion of a large proportion of the population from decent employment and decent opportunities? Will he acknowledge that it is important that the Assembly recognises it has to deliver good quality public services, employment and hope to the entire population it serves to ensure that that horrible period never returns?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the origins of the dispute are historically complex and go back centuries. They include the relationship between the island of Ireland and Britain. However, social exclusion and fierce discrimination against the Catholic population were undoubtedly an important part of what led to the troubles, with all the terror and unacceptable violence that occurred.

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued interest in Northern Ireland and the whole island of Ireland during his time as a Member of Parliament and before that. I agree that dialogue with everyone has been a lesson. John Hume’s actions were very unpopular at the time of the Hume-Adams initiative, while Gerry Adams was courageous as well. However, the process triggered the start of the melting of the ice that allowed things to be picked up later on.

As a committed Unionist—I make no bones about that—I warmly welcome the developments in Ulster and the return of peace, stability and devolved government. Does the Secretary of State agree that that has happened partly because of the very brave stance taken by the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)? He has perhaps made a great sacrifice to lead, with the support of Sinn Fein, all the people in Northern Ireland back to peace, democracy and stability. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Government will always be totally even-handed when they deal with the Assembly in Northern Ireland and that they will not in any way put pressure on the Assembly in respect of any particular policy? Surely, allowing Assembly Members to sort out their own problems, as the Government are apparently willing to do, is the best way to achieve future peace, prosperity and success in Ulster.

I could not have put the hon. Gentleman’s last point better myself—I thank him for it. I have never thought that exerting pressure is a very profitable exercise, especially regarding the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), and I think that the same goes for the Deputy First Minister. I intend that we will support the devolved Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can, including through a decent financial package, but this is a matter for them. As I said to the First Minister yesterday, “The power has passed to you. Good luck.” We will be watching in the wings and giving support, but we will certainly treat everyone even-handedly.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) describes himself as a committed Unionist. Committed Unionists have nothing to fear from the future. They have the votes in the referendum behind them. If there is a change in the future, it will occur democratically through the will of the people, if it happens at all. I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a committed Unionist, will respect that, because that is democracy.

I warmly welcome the process, as far as it has now gone, and what looks like a period of stability. Hon. Members should pay tribute to the former Member for Upper Bann, who sacrificed his party by being the flexible Unionist in Northern Ireland and was then crushed between two dominant hard-line forces. I hope that there will be a revival of that flexible Unionism.

The Secretary of State will know that I have been engaged in the process for a number of years, both here and across in Northern Ireland. I thus have many unanswered questions about how we will go forward. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) talked about the unsolved murders. The Secretary of State will know that a member of my extended family was killed by a murder squad from the Ulster Volunteer Force in McGurk’s bar in 1973. The driver, Mr. Campbell, admitted his guilt and served time, but the bombers have never been named. Whatever process takes place, I hope that such unsolved crimes will be raised. Philip Garry—we called him Uncle Philly—was killed and his last remaining relative, Eilene Killin, still lives in Belfast. I hope that someday she will get the peace of knowing that the people who did that at least admitted it and felt a sense of sorrow for what they did during those terrible times.

The Secretary of State might be able to answer a question about engagement that remains unanswered. When I was last in South Armagh as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was told that the police still could not drive into South Armagh and that they had to be brought in by helicopter. Has the situation advanced and will people living in what seems to be a criminal environment in South Armagh admit of the rule of law there?

Finally, will the Secretary of State give the necessary resources—

I thank my hon. Friend for the interest that he has shown in Northern Ireland over many years and for his activity. It was valuable that he and other hon. Members did that because it brought a wealth of experience and expertise to our debates, which meant that the people and parties of Northern Ireland always knew that there were Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), to whom they could turn when they wanted to put forward a point of view.

I know about the member of my hon. Friend’s extended family who was savagely murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force because my hon. Friend and I have been in touch about that matter. I hope that there will eventually be a solution to that case and all the others. I am struck by the fact that, as things settle down, it might be a good idea to consider whether hon. Members can develop a relationship with Members of the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend talks about south Armagh and policing. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), the Minister with responsibility for security, drove himself into Crossmaglen a few weeks ago, which would have been unthinkable for any security Minister or Secretary of State even last year. The police now do so. I am not saying that there are not dissident republicans around who, though marginalised and isolated, are still dangerous and threatening and that everything is a bed of roses, but the security situation has completely transformed to the point at which soldiers were withdrawn from Crossmaglen at the end of March. The remaining home-based Army soldiers will be withdrawn at the end of July, which will leave still stationed in Northern Ireland only a garrison that can be deployed anywhere in the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) mentioned in particular the role played by the armed forces. On this momentous day, may I invite the Secretary of State to pay particular tribute to the contribution, courage and determination of all the members of Her Majesty’s armed forces who gave their lives in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, which we celebrate today? We should send a message to their families who, perhaps even 30 years on, are feeling hurt and pain after their family members gave their lives for the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.

I heard what the Secretary of State said about inquiries. He knows my view: the Saville inquiry should never have been set up in the first place. To prevent the reopening of old wounds—perhaps this can take place in the context of the other inquiries that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned—will he ensure that the Saville inquiry is wound up with the lawyers sent off to do more lucrative business, if they can find it?

The Saville inquiry is due to report—[Laughter.] I hesitate to use the word “shortly”, but the inquiry has been going for quite a time and it is in its twilight period. I do not think it would be sensible to wind it up at this point.

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wholeheartedly paying tribute to the armed forces and the role that they played over many difficult years. Given your interest in Northern Ireland, Mr. Speaker, I know that you would have been very excited by the joyous mood at Stormont Buildings yesterday. I was struck by the fact that several victims and victims’ representatives were present, including one of the most prominent Royal Ulster Constabulary George cross widows, Wilma Carson, who was really pleased by the way things were going. One of the most striking things about what has happened is that a healing process has started, although it still has a long way to go, as I said earlier.

In the warm spirit of bipartisanship and cross-party agreement that exists on this occasion, may I mention that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), would certainly have been present today if he were not unwell? I am sure that the whole House sends its best wishes to the hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, has had a radio receiver brought to his bedside so that he can follow our deliberations.

When the Secretary of State referred to the fair following wind that should be given to the newly established Assembly in Northern Ireland, he answered a question that caused many of us concern. It is important that infrastructure in Northern Ireland receives the financial attention it desperately needs. Will he tell the House what the mechanism will be for that fair following financial wind? Will it be a statement, part of the pre-Budget report, or, as is traditional, a report to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee? That is an extremely serious issue on which the House will have to concentrate in the months, and possibly even years, ahead.

In respect of the financial package, I agree with my hon. Friend. Let us remember that the Chancellor has already offered £18 billion—an enormous amount for a place the size of Northern Ireland—in infrastructure support over the coming period. That is part of a package worth more than £50 billion over the next four years. It is the only part of the United Kingdom that has some certainty about its budget for the next four years at this relatively early stage of the comprehensive spending review. The Irish Republic has committed £400 million to infrastructure, too, so there is tremendous opportunity and support for taking forward the projects to which my hon. Friend referred.

I received a message from the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to say that he was indisposed with bronchitis. He was not able to be at Stormont yesterday, although I know that he wanted to be there. He probably not only has a radio next to him, but has the BBC Parliament channel on by his bedside. He is one of the most respected parliamentarians in the House, and I pay tribute to the role of the Committee, which has given us valuable advice, and sometimes valuable criticism, over the period of its work.

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid of Wales, and as a Scottish nationalist with an Irish mother, I would like to add my voice and express my relief, but overwhelmingly I would like to offer my congratulations on the developments in Northern Ireland yesterday. If ever there was an example of Churchill’s maxim

“To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war”,

we are seeing it in Northern Ireland today. We should praise the efforts made over the years by the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, but also by the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party and, in the Republic, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I know that my aunt in Dungarvan, County Waterford, would want me to recognise the efforts of John Major and the current Prime Minister, which indeed I do. Finally, I add a comment in my native tongue of Scottish Gaelic, which is a first cousin of Irish Gaelic, but without any of the perceived tribal, political or religious overtones: gum bi mile mile beannachd air sluagh Eirinn a Tuath.

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am sure that it is in the spirit of this debate.

I thank the Secretary of State for his kind comments about the servicemen and women who have given so much for Northern Ireland and our country over the years. As a humble Guardsman, I served in Armagh in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, and we sacrificed an awful lot. On that note, before we close the door completely on the past, may I bring up the tragic situation of Captain Robert Nairac, who was my captain from 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards? He was the first man to break my nose; he was an excellent boxer. His family, quite rightly, would like to know what has happened to his body, and we would all like to put that question to rest. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what is happening in the negotiations to find out what happened to Captain Robert Nairac?

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s role and that of his colleagues. The predicament experienced by the family of Captain Robert Nairac is appalling and unacceptable. Many relatives of those who have disappeared face the awful situation of not knowing what happened to loved ones or where their remains might be. We have provided the opportunity, through recent legislation, for death certificates to be issued. That is at least something, but it is not sufficient and we will continue to pursue the matter.

In the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, I talked to a former Ulster Defence Regiment sergeant who had twice suffered horrific attacks by the IRA, in which he narrowly escaped death. I was struck by the fact that despite his being injured, and despite his family having seen the events on at least one occasion, he still wanted the process to work, and he welcomed the fact that Martin McGuinness was the Deputy First Minister. He said, “Look, I may have fought all these people, and they may have tried to take my life away years ago, but I want to see them in government with other parties, democratically pursuing their interests in peace and with respect for the rule of law.” I thought that that change of heart by somebody who had suffered what he had suffered boded very well for the future.