Haass Talks

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): On the past and the Downey case, I agree with the Secretary of State that there was never any question of an amnesty. May I also say that I make no apology for being part of a process that brought Northern Ireland from the hideous horror and evil of the past to the position where old enemies have now governed together for seven years in a stable, devolved Government—no apology for that at all? Just as we had to do deals with my Democratic Unionist party friends sitting over there to get to this point, so we have had to do deals with Sinn Fein to get to this point, and that was necessary for the negotiations to succeed and for peace to be established.

Mrs Villiers: Clearly, many difficult decisions were made as a result of the peace process. Some aspects of the Good Friday agreement were hard to swallow for many in the House, but I think that it is important that we reflect on the implications of the John Downey case and how a very serious mistake came to be made. Of course, as I have said to the House, we are urgently checking to ensure that similar mistakes were not made in any other cases.

Security Northern Ireland

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): If I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute to Paul Goggins, not only a good friend of mine but a brilliant security Minister who served under me in Northern Ireland. His funeral is tomorrow.

How can the Secretary of State justify her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), given that the additional security budget, which the PSNI is entitled to apply for, has been halved this year compared with the past three years—and this at a time of rising dissident threats, as we saw in Belfast city centre before Christmas?

Mrs Villiers: It is just not true that it has been halved. The Government take very seriously their security responsibilities in Northern Ireland, which is why we have provided additional funds for the PSNI to deal with the deteriorating security situation we inherited from the previous Government. We will continue to be vigilant. In particular, we will continue to work closely with Irish counterparts on deepening and strengthening the cross-border co-operation that is crucial to keeping Northern Ireland safe and secure.

Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi

Peter enjoyed meeting with Burmese freedom and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 22nd October as a Former Secretary of Northern Ireland in order to brief her on lessons from Northern Ireland on negotiating a settlement to end conflict and establish peace.

National Crime Agency

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I strongly support the Secretary of State’s efforts to persuade all those involved, including in her discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland, to ensure that the remit of the National Crime Agency is extended. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the hesitancy about that from Belfast so far, everybody will want to see every possible effort made to tackle these issues—particularly after two executions attributed to dissident republicans last week and 12 security threats recently—and she ought to make sure that happens.

Mrs Villiers: I agree and will continue to do everything possible to make the case for the extension of the NCA’s activities in Northern Ireland. It is also worth bearing it in mind that there were some ways in which the legislation on the NCA would have strengthened accountability in Northern Ireland, because it would have extended the remit of the police ombudsman to proceeds of crime matters, which are not currently covered by the policing and justice settlement. In many ways, the legislation, which does not currently have agreement in Northern Ireland, would have enabled us to strengthen accountability on police activities in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland – Public Order

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s statement? Anybody who has done her job will know its difficulties. However, may I press her to be more directly engaged, despite the meetings she has had, with the different groups that are very sensitive on this issue: from the Orange Order to republican groups, dissident groups and loyalist groups? There is a feeling in Northern Ireland, fairly or unfairly, that she is not rolling up her sleeves enough and getting people around the table. Is the Parades Commission perhaps being too aloof and legalistic in the way it is proceeding? It, too, needs to get into the negotiation business and not simply make determinations.

Mrs Villiers: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have been engaged in a whole range of discussions with the Orange Order, residents’ associations and a long list of people involved in these matters. I got the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, the PSNI and the Parades Commission around the table to talk about these issues. As far I am aware, that has never happened before. All of that took place in the months running up to 12 July —there was not a last-minute series of meetings immediately before the parades that has sometimes happened in the past. I am always keen to roll up my sleeves to get involved and do whatever I can. The reality is that this remains an extremely difficult problem to resolve, but I will be doing my very best, working with Northern Ireland politicians.