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Northern Ireland

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about recent events in Northern Ireland.

Over the past week a series of protests has taken place relating to the decision taken by Belfast city council on the flying of the Union flag. A number of these have witnessed violence, rioting and attacks on police officers. Yesterday evening, a masked gang threw a petrol bomb inside an unmarked police car; a young policewoman narrowly escaped very serious injury. That is now being treated by police as attempted murder.

As I made clear in the House last Wednesday, there can be absolutely no excuse or justification for this kind of thuggish and lawless behaviour. It is despicable. We condemn it unreservedly, and it must stop immediately. I welcome the motion passed unanimously yesterday in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which unequivocally condemned

“rioting and the campaign of intimidation, harassment and violent attacks on elected representatives”

and reaffirmed

“the absolute and unconditional commitment of all its Members to respecting and upholding the rule of law and the pursuit of their political objectives by purely legal and political means”.

Let us be very clear: no one can be in any doubt about the Government’s support for the Union and its flag, but the people engaged in the kind of violence we have seen in the past few days are not defending the Union flag. There is nothing remotely British about what they are doing. They are dishonouring and shaming the flag of our country through their lawless and violent activities. They discredit the cause that they claim to support. They are also doing untold damage to hard-pressed traders in the run-up to Christmas, and they undermine those who are working tirelessly to promote Northern Ireland to bring about investment, jobs and prosperity.

In addition to outbreaks of violence, appalling threats have been made against elected politicians, including a death threat to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our complete solidarity with the hon. Lady and her colleagues in the Alliance party and all the people who have been threatened and intimidated over the last week by this disgraceful conduct. The right of elected representatives to go about their daily business without the threat or fear of intimidation is one of the hallmarks of our democracy, and these threats are nothing less than an attack on democracy in this country.

Throughout this crisis, I have stayed in close contact with the Chief Constable for Northern Ireland. Some 32 police officers have been injured in the line of duty during the last week, and I want to take this opportunity to pay the warmest of tributes to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who once again find themselves in the front line in countering and tackling violence, and once again they have shown themselves to be fearless guardians of the rule of law whenever, and from wherever, it comes under attack. I received a further update from the Chief Constable this morning. He informed me that about 38 people have now been charged in relation to this disorder. Those engaged in violence should be in no doubt of the determination of the Chief Constable and the PSNI to apply the full force of the law—those engaged in violence should be well aware of that fact. I have also discussed with the Chief Constable the threats to elected politicians. Again, I am in no doubt as to the extreme seriousness Matt Baggott, like the rest of us, attaches to those unacceptable threats. I assure the House that the PSNI is doing all it can to enable elected politicians to carry out their duties and serve their constituents.

For our part, the UK Government will continue to give their fullest backing to the PSNI. That is why, in the face of the deteriorating security situation we inherited, the Government secured an exceptional additional £200 million from the Treasury reserve. We will continue to do all we can to assist the Chief Constable in keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure, whether from so-called dissidents or from those responsible for this week’s events.

Yet responsibility for solving the underlying issues that have led to the violence does not rest solely with the police or with the UK Government, and it is right that local politicians in Northern Ireland take the lead in trying to reach agreement on a way forward. In tackling these issues, I believe that everybody has a responsibility to consider very carefully the impact of their words and deeds on wider community relations.

Once again, the trouble we have seen in Belfast and elsewhere underlines the urgent necessity of working towards a genuinely shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland. We have made it clear that where the Executive take the difficult decisions needed to deliver that, they will have the Government’s full backing. It would be a huge lost opportunity if Northern Ireland politics were to continue to be defined by questions of identity. There is a pressing need to focus on the wider issues of the economy, jobs and delivery.

The scenes of the past few days have been deplorable, but we should not let them detract from the positive progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years. That was highlighted last Friday by the visit to Belfast of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She rightly pointed to the many difficult decisions taken by local politicians and the leadership they have shown in bringing us to where we are today. I am sure that those politicians will not allow the achievements that have been made to be undermined by lawless violence of the kind we have seen over the past week. I am also sure that this House will remain united in support of their efforts to move the peace process further forwards towards a genuinely shared future for all in Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House to make this statement and for advance sight of it. Let me say why I, and the Opposition, called on her to do so. There have been eight consecutive nights of violence in Northern Ireland. A Member of this House has had her life disgracefully threatened, and her Alliance party has seen its representatives intimidated and subjected to violence, and its property attacked.

Violence against the police has escalated, to the extent that an attempt was made to murder a female officer last night by breaking the window of a police car and throwing a petrol bomb inside while she was still in the vehicle. Dozens of officers have been injured after coming under sustained attack over the course of the week. A few days before, another murderous attack on the police was narrowly avoided only when a vehicle carrying a rocket was apprehended in Derry. It cannot go on, and Westminster’s voice must also be heard. This violence would not be tolerated in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh, and it should not be tolerated in Belfast. A clear and strong message must be sent from this place today that says this violence is wrong, unacceptable and without justification.

May I join the Secretary of State in once again paying tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for its dedication and bravery? I spoke earlier to the Justice Minister, whom I also met a few days ago in Belfast. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with him and the Chief Constable about resources and the police’s capacity to deal with this disorder, and the continuing national security threat? Will she update the House on what her latest security assessment is?

The homes of public representatives have been vandalised and attacked. Local councillors, who are doing their best on behalf of the communities they serve, and their families have seen their homes targeted and vandalised. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that whether we are talking about a Democratic Unionist party councillor in Dungannon, two Alliance councillors and their family in Bangor, or the husband of a Sinn Fein councillor in Armagh, such violence is wrong and must stop. I stand shoulder to shoulder with public representatives in Northern Ireland, for democracy and against violence. When a Member of Parliament is threatened and attacked, I view it as a threat to and attack on all of us and everything we stand for.

Will the Secretary of State tell me what assessment she has made of the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries in the rioting? Does she view their actions as a threat to national security? What discussions has she had with the Prime Minister about this? Has he discussed the ongoing violence with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, or the Justice Minister?

I know there are underlying issues and I am realistic about the challenges we face. I have been with Unionist and loyalist political representatives to visit areas in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, and I want to say this: hon. Members and others from Northern Ireland are doing a really difficult job in these circumstances in these communities. I do not doubt their sincerity, integrity or hard work. They are dealing with frustration and anger, and they need support in helping to channel that away from violence and towards politics. I will do what I can to help, and I make that offer in republican and nationalist communities, too. But violence is never justified and it is wrong. It is damaging those communities and until it stops we cannot even begin to discuss or do anything about the longer-term issues that need to be resolved. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with political representatives about supporting work in these communities? Will she consider bringing political leaders together to see what can be done and what support the UK Government can give to any initiatives in these areas?

I care deeply about Northern Ireland and its people, and I know the Secretary of State and all other hon. Members do, too. I think it was exceptionally important today that we came together as the United Kingdom House of Commons and said that. Northern Ireland matters; it is important. I hope that we see this awful violence ended and that we can look forward to a 2013 in which Northern Ireland is showcased on the world stage as the great place it truly is.

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the measured tone of his response. Like him, I believe that violence of the sort we have seen over the past week is unacceptable in Northern Ireland, just as it would be unacceptable anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In particular, I fully agree with him that these attacks on the police are absolutely despicable and should not be tolerated.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the arrests recently made in Londonderry in relation to an explosively formed projectile device. They were very significant arrests and Northern Ireland is a safer place as a result of their having taken place. He asked about my contacts with the Justice Minister. I believe I have spoken three times to the Justice Minister since these events started to unfold. I have also spoken to Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and spoken three times to the Chief Constable to make sure that I am fully aware of their concerns. I know that the Justice Minister continues to work extremely hard to ensure that the police have all the resources they need, and the UK Government are entirely supportive of him in his efforts to do that.

The shadow Secretary of State asked for an update on the general security situation. The threat level from dissident terrorism remains at “severe”, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The PSNI continues to focus strongly not only on these disturbances, but on all activities undertaken by paramilitaries and all terrorist activities in Northern Ireland. He particularly asked me about the investigation of loyalist paramilitary involvement in the disturbances, and I was discussing that with the Chief Constable this morning. It appears that some loyalist paramilitaries attended some of these events. There does not appear to be evidence of organised orchestration by paramilitary groups, but I am sure that the PSNI will be reviewing this carefully and will continue to investigate it as part of its wider investigation, which is extremely serious in relation not just to the disorder, but to the disgraceful threats received by elected representatives.

The shadow Secretary of State asked me whether I have discussed this matter with the Prime Minister. I have been keeping the Prime Minister fully informed on this; a copy of my statement was sent to him, I discussed this matter with his chief of staff this morning and he is following events very closely. The shadow Secretary of State also asked about my contact with Northern Ireland politicians. I spoke this morning to the First Minister about this situation specifically, and I have had a whole series of meetings; pretty much every discussion I have had with Northern Ireland politicians since being appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has focused on building a shared future and dealing with sectarianism, because that is one of the crucial challenges we face as a nation, in the United Kingdom in general and in Northern Ireland in particular.

The shadow Secretary of State was right to focus on and express concern about frustration and anger. It is essential that that frustration is channelled only into legitimate protest and into the political process as well. The history of Northern Ireland shows what incredible progress can be made once people abandon violence and promote the peaceful and democratic resolution of differences across the community.

As a Unionist who believes that the Union flag should fly over every public building in the United Kingdom, may I join the Secretary of State in condemning the violence that we have seen in the Province? I join her also in paying tribute to the members of the PSNI and in sending our sympathies to those who have been injured. I pay great tribute to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), who has shown great courage and determination at this time. She is a very valuable member of the Select Committee—a Committee that is working hard to try to help improve the economy of Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree that nothing could do more to undermine those efforts than the violence that we are currently seeing on our television screens every day?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me another opportunity to express my concern and sympathy for the hon. Member for Belfast East and all the others who have found themselves in a similar position, not least Sammy Brush, the DUP councillor.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. This is absolutely the last thing Northern Ireland needs. At a time when so much effort is going into reviving the private sector in Northern Ireland and boosting its economy, to promote inward investment and to promote Northern Ireland as a great place to live, to work and to invest, it is hugely damaging to see scenes of riot and disorder on our TV screens. That is another reason why it is imperative that no matter how strongly people feel about flags, they express themselves only through democratic means and never by violence and disorder.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and I join her in condemning last night’s wanton and gratuitous attempt to murder police officers who were guarding my constituency office and for whom I have the utmost admiration and respect. That attack is no different from previous murder attempts by dissident republicans against the security services.

Can the Secretary of State therefore confirm that this violence is being treated as a matter of national security, and advise when the Prime Minister will meet the Northern Ireland Justice Minister to discuss the security situation in Northern Ireland, as has been requested? Finally, does she agree that if we are to have a shared future capable of dealing with emotive and charged issues such as the flying of flags, it will require strong, courageous and above all generous leadership, willing to give a little of their own position in order to gain the greater prize for the whole community?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. However one chooses to label these attacks, whether one calls them terrorism or criminal activities, they are utterly unacceptable. There is a technical definition of national security, but whether or not one applies that in this case, it is unacceptable for these attacks and threats to take place.

With reference to the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister, as Northern Ireland Secretary I remain happy to meet the Justice Minister whenever he would like, and I am happy to pass on again his request to the Prime Minister for a direct meeting with him. I have every sympathy with the hon. Lady’s call for generous leadership. Again, the successes of the past 20 years demonstrate that generous leadership and being prepared to compromise can lead to tremendous benefits right across the community, and I have every confidence that the political leadership in Northern Ireland is capable of that form of generous leadership on flags, as it has been on so many other issues.

May I reiterate my support and admiration for the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and condemn the mindless thugs who are betraying the name of Unionism, which I support? Does the Secretary of State agree that every brick and petrol bomb that is thrown damages inward investment, job creation and tourism in Northern Ireland?

Yes, I agree that significant economic damage is being done as a result of these riots, which is another reason why it is urgent that they cease.

Does the Secretary of State agree that although the priority must be to end the appalling violence, the Alliance party genuinely tried to find a compromise on a very difficult issue? Does she accept that it is important for her, as the United Kingdom Secretary of State not only to talk to the political leaders in Northern Ireland—that is vital—but to engage in conversation with leaders of local government in Northern Ireland, to try to stop the violence happening elsewhere?

I agree that it is very important for me and for my Minister of State to engage with local government on these and other issues, and with the wider community as well. It is essential that councillors from Belfast city council are able to take decisions on issues such as flags without being intimidated, and without having a riot outside their door. It was a disgraceful start to a sad series of events that a council was prevented from taking a vote on the issue. It is down to the council to take its own decisions on these matters.

I wholeheartedly support the Secretary of State’s statement today and endorse, from my own perspective and that of my party, the dignity with which the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) has dealt with the very challenging scenarios of the past 10 days for her and for the Alliance party that she represents. I represent a constituency whose Member of Parliament, Ian Gow, was murdered many years ago by the IRA. He is still fondly remembered across the whole party political spectrum in Eastbourne. I seek reassurance from the Secretary of State—it is particularly relevant to what the hon. Member for Belfast East and some other politicians have been going through—that both the UK Government and the devolved Government will work closely together to ensure that elected politicians in the north of Ireland continuously and continually have the appropriate levels of security for their protection?

At the outset, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I unreservedly condemn those who have engaged in violence on our streets and assure those injured or affected by such violence, including the police, of our support. I also unreservedly condemn any threat against the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and her colleagues. I certainly know what that is like because the IRA tried not only to attack my property, but to assassinate me and my complete family because I wanted to hold to the Union flag. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is not right to demonise those who wish to protest peacefully against a decision to remove the Union flag from Belfast city council? That flag is the very core of the Unionist identity and many people of Northern Ireland died in order to keep it aloft in our Province. Can the Secretary of State therefore assure me that the PSNI has every resource that it needs to maintain law and order and to facilitate peaceful protest?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s forthright condemnation of what has gone on. Clearly, he has a special perspective on this, having himself been a victim of such terrible threats in the past. It is a fundamental part of our democracy that people have the right to protest peacefully. That cannot, of course, justify the terrible scenes that we have seen on our television screens over the past week.

Everyone in the House will have seen how communities across the United Kingdom have fought hard over the past few years to reclaim the Union flag as an identity for everyone who lives in this country—something that we saw so splendidly this summer in the jubilee and the Olympics. Is my right hon. Friend not frustrated that in this year when the flag really did become a symbol for everyone who lives in this country, no matter from what background they come, it is being so abused at present?

It is a concern that we see our Union flag being abused. Like my hon. Friend, I shared the joy that I think everyone felt with fantastically successful events this year, such as the Queen’s jubilee and the Olympics, where the Union flag played such a wonderful central role and such a positive one. That is another reason why those who persist in that course of conduct should stop immediately and confine their activities to peaceful participation in the democratic process, rather than seeking to hold people to ransom by rioting and threatening them.

I, too, offer my full support to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). The Secretary of State referred to her conversations with the Chief Constable of the PSNI, who has indicated that the violence has been stoked up by individuals using social media. Does she agree that in order to identify those responsible it is essential that the police, with proper authorisation, can access relevant details of the communications of those causing the chaos? If she agrees, does she think that the Deputy Prime Minister’s threat to block the draft Communications Data Bill will help or hinder those who have to keep order in such circumstances?

The right hon. Gentleman, who is a former Minister, will appreciate that, regardless of what happens to the proposed Bill, there are already opportunities for the police to look at social media: they can do that in a public way, as everyone else does. I can assure him that the PSNI is carefully monitoring social media within the parameters of what it is allowed to do by law.

I agree entirely with the Secretary of State’s claim that this is nothing less than a fundamental attack on democracy. Part of being a democracy is accepting that sometimes we do not get what we want. Opposition Members know that very well, as every day of the week we have to accept things we do not like, and the same was true for Government Members when they were in opposition. Can we be very clear, on behalf of everyone in this House, that there is no way that the people leading the riots will succeed and that we will support the people in Belfast in carrying out their democratic mandate in what they have agreed to do properly?

I welcome that firm statement, which I am sure that everyone will endorse. Such decisions need to be taken on the basis of democracy and consent, and indeed decisions on matters as sensitive as flags need to be taken after calm reflection. It is important that a real effort is made to take into account the concerns of people right across the community. There is a way forward. Northern Ireland has demonstrated that it can resolve seemingly intractable problems that have divided people for 800 years, so I am sure that they can find a sensible way forward on flags as well.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. In condemning the levels of unrest on the streets of Belfast and the assault on democracy and on our hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and others across Northern Ireland over the past few days, does she agree that parties that agreed to designated days for flying the Union flag at Stormont should not have exaggerated the significance of having the same policy at Belfast city hall and that the consequences of such agitation, including the distribution of inappropriate literature door to door in east Belfast, have contributed considerably to the unrest on the streets?

As I have said, the important approach is to recognise that those decisions are very sensitive and that different people in Northern Ireland view flags in completely different ways. I think that the guiding principle should always be that those decisions should be taken with care and thought after dialogue and with a mind on the impact on community relations and an understanding of their impact on people who have different views right across the community.

Does the Secretary of State accept that for many hard-working, decent, pro-Union people there is a feeling that a shared future sometimes looks like a dripping away of their British identity? Does she accept that the Taoiseach and the Irish Government continually stand up for the nationalist community and their idea of a united Ireland? Will she, as Secretary of State, stand up more for the pro-Union community and the fact that this is the United Kingdom, and will she help by condemning the fact that a children’s playground has been named after an IRA gunman?

It is my job, as Northern Ireland Secretary, to stand up for all the people in Northern Ireland. I say to the hon. Lady what I have said many times: this Government are not neutral on the Union, and neither am I. I am very supportive of the Union and Northern Ireland’s place within it. She invites me to get involved in the dispute about the naming of a playground. It is for the council involved to take that decision. I repeat what I have already said: it is very important that decisions on sensitive matters, whether playgrounds or flags, are taken in a measured way with appropriate attention to community relations and the consequences of those decisions on the wider community, including on people whose views are very different from those of the people taking the decisions.

If I am reading the Secretary of State correctly, I agree that it is completely insensitive and foolish for people to think that they can name play-parks after murderers and terrorists and remove the national flag from Northern Ireland, or reduce its flying, and think that there will be no consequences whatsoever. Sadly, we have seen that identity and the struggle for identity have consequences, and I condemn the violent consequences that have occurred. In giving meaning to the words in her statement, that nobody can be in any doubt about the Government’s support for the Union and its flag, will she go to Northern Ireland at her earliest convenience and reiterate again and again the view that Ulster’s Britishness is not diminished whatsoever?

As I have said, I have repeated on many occasions the Government’s support for the Union and for Northern Ireland’s place within it. The question of Northern Ireland’s future is settled on the principles of the Belfast agreement; it will only ever be decided by democracy and by consent. When it comes to the politics of identity, I think that it is very important that when decisions are taken, whether on flags or other issues, the very different traditions, perspectives and perceptions of identity in Northern Ireland are taken into account, but I will never be in doubt about my support for the Union or about the UK Government’s support for it.

I fear that in many of these replies to the questions on the statement the idea of identity in Northern Ireland is being treated as somehow a theoretical construct. Last Thursday, when you, Mr Speaker, assisted by calling me to speak on the 41st anniversary of the McGurk’s bar bombing, what was revealed to me was that the people who had researched a book on the bombing and come here to launch it are deeply locked in the past. Clearly those people from west Belfast still feel a deep bitterness towards the United Kingdom and the involvement of its armed forces in their community. Similarly, in my work in the peace process over there, I have found that the people on the ground, not the politicians, feel deeply threatened by the turmoil that goes on at street level about identity, which leads to continued violence by IRA paramilitaries and the clear ability in loyalist communities to round up people on the streets and create violence. I urge the Secretary of State, apart from helping me get to the truth about the McGurk’s bar bombing, to get on the ground, talk to people and stop lecturing them from above.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I and the Minister of State do talk with people on the ground about these matters—it is a crucial part of being effective in our roles. With regard to the matter of identity, the important thing is to remember that one of the fundamental principles of the Belfast agreement was the need to recognise that people in Northern Ireland view their identities differently. The agreement recognised the ability of individuals in Northern Ireland to define themselves as British or Irish, and indeed some may choose to define themselves simply as Northern Irish. The politics of identity is fluid and changing, but a key part of the Belfast agreement was recognition of an individual’s right to define their identity in whatever way they choose.

I want to add my voice to those that have expressed solidarity with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and with those brave public servants who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Will the Secretary of State provide some reassurance about discussions she might have had with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable on the violence and whether they have all the resources needed to deal with it?

I have discussed both matters with the Justice Minister and the Chief Constable on a number of occasions over the past few months. The Chief Constable is on record as indicating previously that he has the resources necessary to police Northern Ireland, and that is in no small part because of the £200 million that this Government allocated from the Treasury reserve to the PSNI to support its efforts to keep people in Northern Ireland safe and secure and to combat the terrorist threat. The Chief Constable has not raised resourcing with me, but I am always open to conversations about that. Indeed, I am working with him on what will happen once the four-year period of the £200 million that has already been allocated expires and on what future arrangements might be made.

On conversations with David Ford, I am always happy to listen to his concerns, and if he feels that further resource issues need to be addressed, I am happy to discuss them with him.

I commend the Secretary of State for her statement and join her in offering support to my colleague, the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), to all her party colleagues who have endured attack, and to representatives of Sinn Fein and the DUP who have endured attack. That empathy comes from a party that has suffered attack from loyalists and republicans. Does the Secretary of State agree that no national flag, whether the Union flag or the tricolour, should be used or abused as a visual aid to sectarianism or as a partisan prop in the way that has happened all too often in the past?

Does the Secretary of State recognise that in circumstances where Northern Ireland will be moving towards having 11 new councils under a carve-up determined by Sinn Fein and the DUP, there is a danger that the whole issue of flags being determined at council level will be played out in those new council chambers in a very difficult and dangerous way? Does she further recognise that there needs to be real dialogue among all parties about how we handle and manage that situation, in relation not only to flags but to the sensitive issue of the naming of public amenities run by councils, including play spaces, which in my view should be neutral and apolitical?

Given the sensitivity of issues relating to national flags, yes, one does need to be cautious in terms of how the flag is approached in political debate. Certainly, any kind of inflammatory approach to these issues is not helpful. The key lies in dialogue and learning from past successes in the peace process where many more intractable issues have been resolved and compromises have been found. There is a real opportunity for the political parties, working together, to find a resolution on this. I welcome last night’s statements from the DUP and the Ulster Unionist party that they want to start such a dialogue.

I, too, express solidarity with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), who has shown great courage and dignity in the light of the attacks that she has suffered, and with all our colleagues from Northern Ireland—our valued colleagues in this place—who operate in a political environment in the north of Ireland which perhaps some of us can never fully understand. What is the Secretary of State going to do to make sure that this dialogue between the political parties takes place? It is all very well for us here in this House to express our condemnations of violence, but what needs to be done on the ground is to ensure that the political parties agree that they will operate with statesmanship and not just through rhetoric.

I am very happy to engage in whatever way would be found helpful by the Northern Ireland parties. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s praise for hon. Members from Northern Ireland and the tremendous work that they do for all their constituents. Matters relating to the flag raise difficult issues. This is an opportunity for me, and indeed for the whole House, again to endorse the need to address sectarian barriers. There is very good work going on by the Northern Ireland Executive on things such as shared education—for example, getting schools working together so that children have an experience of being educated alongside those from other faiths. A lot of work has gone into the Executive’s cohesion, sharing and integration strategy. There is the will to make the change. The Northern Ireland parties have delivered phenomenal success in changing in the past, and it is now time to press ahead further and faster in addressing the sectarian barriers and moving towards a genuinely shared, cohesive and integrated society.

I, too, express solidarity with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) on the difficult issues that she is facing.

The Secretary of State said that the Chief Constable had not asked for additional resources, but I understand that Terry Spence, the chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, has called for 1,000 extra officers in the PSNI to help deal with the possibility of further terrorist threats. Given the recent events, does the Secretary of State intend to pursue that, particularly with the Treasury in light of the additional resources that have been supplied previously?

As I said, I am working directly with the Chief Constable on what will happen in the period after the current additional four-year spending uplift of £200 million comes to an end. I am also working with him and others on the preparations for the G8 summit to ensure that the PSNI have all the appropriate resources. So yes, this is something that I keep a very close eye on. It is always difficult in these times when we need to deal with the deficit, but we are determined to ensure that the PSNI have all the support they need to keep Northern Ireland safe and secure.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Alliance councillor in my constituency had her home attacked. I visited her, first, to give her support, but also because she is a personal friend. I have worked with her on many constituency issues for the betterment of the whole community. She had the living room windows, porch windows and bedroom windows smashed in her home, which she has lived in for 24 years, and her car windows broken as well, in what can be described as a cowardly and shameful attack. This single lady, who lives on her own, said to me that it will cost some £5,000 for her windows to be fixed and had some concern about how that was going to happen as Christmas approaches. What steps can the Secretary of State take to ensure that the £5,000 is made available for the replacement of her windows and, indeed, that there is help for everyone else who has had cars burned, windows smashed and houses damaged?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House’s attention to yet another very sad case. I am particularly concerned about the number of women who have been targeted as a result of these threats—not only the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) but a number of her Alliance local councillor colleagues. That is of course a matter of very grave concern, particularly at a time when everyone says that we need to attract more women into politics. Few things would provide more of a deterrent to entering politics than the idea that one’s front windows are going to be smashed and one is going to be intimidated. As I said, the PSNI are very focused on protecting those who are subject to these threats. It is difficult for me to comment on individual cases, but I am happy to discuss this one on a bilateral basis with the hon. Gentleman.

Bill Presented

Energy Efficiency and Reduction in Energy Costs Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Dr Alan Whitehead, supported by Mr Tim Yeo, John Hemming, Caroline Lucas, Martin Horwood, Sir Peter Bottomley, Martin Caton and Joan Walley, presented a Bill to promote energy efficiency and a reduction in energy costs; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January 2013, and to be printed (Bill 105).