HC Deb 22 April 1996 vol 276 cc23-36 3.33 pm
Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

I beg to move amendment No. 99, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out 'providing' and insert 'electing'.

The Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following amendments: No. 98, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, after 'delegates', insert 'to a forum'.

No. 97, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out 'may' insert 'shall'.

No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert 'and to create a forum constituted by those delegates'. No. 109, in clause 2, clause 2, page 1, line 15, after 'returned', insert 'to the forum'.

No. 129, in clause 8, clause 8, page 3, line 24, after 'Ireland' insert 'forum'.

No. 10, in clause 8, page 3, line 24, after 'Negotiations', insert 'and Creation of Forum'.

Mr. Ross

Mr. Morris, I compliment you on this new method of setting out the clauses and the groupings of amendments. It seems to make the purpose of the various groups of amendments clearer than has been the case in the past. We now have some idea of how the Chair views the groups of amendments that are put down. I think that you would agree with me that this will make the debate not only easier to follow but also much clearer to the participants and to people outside.

As will be evident to the Committee, the small amendments standing in my name amount to a simple, straightforward tidying-up operation, intended to make the clause rather clearer than has been the case after defective drafting in the first instance.

All we ask is that an election shall be held in Northern Ireland, not for the purpose of providing delegates, but for the purpose of electing delegates—because that is what will happen. We shall hold an election, we shall elect people to act on this body, and it seems reasonable that we should say that we are electing them and what we intend to elect them to. Amendment No. 99 deals with that point. It says that we are electing delegates to a forum, and asks that the participants in the negotiations shall be drawn from the participants in that forum.

It appears to me—I believe that it would appear to any reasonable person—that, if we intend to elect individuals to a forum, if we intend to ask people to negotiate on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland, regardless of whether they are of the age of election, they should be the choice of the people, not of some individual.

All that we seek in this small group of amendments is to ensure that the elected delegates shall provide not only the members of the forum, but the negotiators. How on earth could a person who was not elected, had not put himself before the electorate and had not had votes cast for him and for his party, claim to speak for the population?

The Minister should agree that this is a simple, straightforward change; I would be hard put to it to understand how the Government could resist what we are asking for in this group of tidying-up amendments. I shall listen with great interest to the Minister saying on behalf of the Government that they are happy to accept them. They are so reasonable, fair and sensible that no reasonable man or woman could reject them.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Amendments Nos. 97, 98 and 99, placed on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), are very similar in content to amendment No. 1, which has been grouped with them. Therefore, I join the hon. Gentleman in making a plea to Government to accept that there is much to be tidied up in the Bill.

We accept that the Government were under the whip of the IRA in producing this legislation at the speed they did, because the IRA had told them that they had to specify a date for negotiations to start. They bound themselves to 10 June 1996, so they had to concertina everything to meet the IRA's deadline. That has resulted in some fairly loose and shabby wording in the Bill, which it is a task of this Committee to encourage the Government to tidy up.

The changes suggested by the amendments in the group will not have a major impact, but a basic principle underlies them—that of consent. In the view of my colleagues, the principle of consent is central to the negotiation process, and that consent can be tested by the electoral process, which is designated in the Bill and which permits the testing of the support that can be gained for any proposition.

Therefore, a central feature of the Bill is to provide for elections—not simply for negotiators—and a forum that will be the testing ground for any proposition. That feature is so central and fundamental to the principle of the Bill that it should not be excluded from the purpose as designated in clause 1(1). I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept that it is reasonable to include in the clause an amendment which creates a forum constituted by the delegates who are elected under the auspices of the Bill.

The Committee will note that the hon. Member for East Londonderry and I have not attempted to lengthen the proceedings on matters that are not critical to the Bill. We are simply stating our case, and, in so doing, trusting that the Government will recognise that they should not impose the guillotine: they should allow us to deal with substantial matters of amendment in greater detail. There should be no attempt to cut short a debate that is not only necessary, but, as I think that the Secretary of State will recognise, of value to the Government if they accept the arguments that will be advanced.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

I add my support for the amendments standing in the names of the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). The function of the Bill is to provide an electoral process, which is an essential insignia or indicia of democracy. The legislation is not intended to provide the means of furnishing negotiators for the purposes of entering into discussions about the possible settlement of Northern Ireland's future problems.

It is worth emphasising that the process seeks to find out what the people of Northern Ireland want: both with regard to those who will represent them in any negotiations and as an indication of support for parties with particular views. That is part of the democratic process, and it is emphasised by the amendments.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I support the amendments standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I believe that his amendments are eminently sensible, and simply state the purpose of the legislation more accurately than the existing clause 1. It is accurate so far as it goes, but it is not a complete statement of what is in the legislation. I think that it would be better to have a more accurate statement by pointing out that elections will take place for the purpose of electing a forum from which the delegates shall be drawn—that is the effect of my hon. Friend's amendment.

That characteristic of accuracy applies particularly to amendment No. 97. The Secretary of State will appreciate its accuracy if he refers to clause 2(2), which obliges the Secretary of State to invite delegates to participate in negotiations "from among those delegates"—that is, from among the delegates who are returned to the forum. Therefore, my hon. Friend's substitution of "shall" for "may" is absolutely accurate: the use of the word "may" is inaccurate, because it suggests that there is discretion, which clause 2(2) rules out.

In the interests of accuracy, the Government must accept amendment No. 97. They may not be in a position to do so today, as they may need time to think about it. However, upon reflection, I believe that the Government will realise that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct—and I suggest that he is equally correct about amendments Nos. 98 and 99.

3.45 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and other hon. Members for the clarity with which the hon. Gentleman moved and the others supported the amendments. It is worth reminding ourselves that it is of central importance to the Bill that there shall be an election. The Bill is entitled "Entry to Negotiations", and, as I have said rather frequently, elections are a gateway to those negotiations. They are an important gateway—indeed, the only practicable one.

Amendments Nos. 99, 98 and 97 would change clause 1(1) to read: Elections shall be held in Northern Ireland for the purpose of electing delegates to a forum from among whom participants in negotiations Shall be drawn. The points that have been made about amendment No. 99, as I understand them, have claimed that to change the word "electing" to "providing" would be a matter of accuracy. The scheme of the Bill is that parties should be elected and not individuals, although the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) has just made the point that clause 2(2) refers to the Secretary of State inviting the nominating representative of each party for which delegates have been returned to the forum in accordance with Schedule 1 to nominate, from among those delegates, a team". The hon. and learned Member made that point in relation to amendment No. 97, which seeks to substitute "shall" for "may".

Amendment No. 98 would effectively establish the forum as the parent body of the negotiations. The forum would be conceptually intermediate between the elections and the negotiations. The amendment ties in with later amendments that would increase the involvement of the forum in the negotiating process, and would—as no doubt hon. Members will later argue should be done—insert the name of the forum into the title of the Bill.

There is a problem with "shall" and "may", and I understand the reason behind the amendment. Although it is not the intention of the hon. Member for East Londonderry, the substitution of obligatory for permissive language might be taken to work in the opposite direction to clause 2(3), which provides for the exclusion of delegates—for example, from Sinn Fein—in certain circumstances. Amendment No. 97 might suggest that participants in negotiation should come only from the delegates constituting the forum. That may be designed to exclude the possibility of unsuccessful parties having a seat in negotiations as observers, but it would also exclude the Government delegation, on one interpretation.

Amendment No. 1, which was moved by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), would add to clause 1, as a second purpose of the election—in addition to providing delegates from whom negotiating teams are drawn— and to create a forum constituted by those delegates". The forum would then rank on a par with the negotiations.

One is here concerned with striking a presentational balance. All of us who have been involved with the subject for a long time know that we are dealing with a scene that is fraught with suspicion and fears, and, certainly, inspired by hopes. The hope is that we will come through to a process of negotiations that will lead ultimately to a comprehensive settlement, based upon consent. The fears are mutually opposed.

Unionists fear that it is a nationalist intention that, somehow or other, decommissioning of arms shall be postponed almost out of sight in the negotiations; nationalists fear that it is a Unionist intention that the forum shall in some way become a kind of proto-Stormont, to control the negotiations and lead by that route to a restoration of majoritarian rule. Each of those fears is strongly denied by the other side, but that is the conflict of suspicion and fear we face.

The Government therefore feel that it has been important to strike a balance whereby the true purpose of the legislation is set out, as it is in the long title of the Bill. It is a Bill to Make provision for elections in Northern Ireland for the purpose of providing delegates from among whom participants in negotiations may be drawn; for a forum constituted by those delegates; for referendums in Northern Ireland; and for connected purposes.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

In using the words "may be drawn", is the Secretary of State referring to delegates from the two Governments alone, or is he now suggesting that negotiators may come from parties that are not elected to the forum?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

No. The Bill provides for the forum to be composed of those who are returned as members of the parties that have been elected. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, under the Bill, members will be elected after the parties have provided lists of those who will represent them.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That was not my point. We know that the forum will be elected, but I was always under the impression in all our negotiations with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the negotiators for the parties would be drawn from the forum alone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman now talks of the Government delegations not being elected. I understand that; I am asking whether the phrase "may be drawn" in the Bill refers only to negotiating delegates.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Yes, it does. There is no obligation for a nominating representative to submit a list, so the phrase is not "shall be drawn", but the wording does mean that those who will comprise the forum will be those who have been returned in the way specified in the Bill.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will eventually have to decide how many persons will be in each negotiating team. He will be aware of press speculation—I put it no higher than that—that there is to be a team of three, with three back-up members. How will he secure those six people if the individual parties do not manage to get at least six elected to the forum? Like everyone in Northern Ireland, he is well aware that there are parties that may well be elected on the regional list—where there can be a maximum of two—but will not be able to get anyone elected under the system that has been designed for the parties in the constituencies.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The provision is for up to three members, but it will be up to the parties to decide how many members they want. I hope that that deals with the hon. Gentleman's question.

For reasons that I have tried to explain, I am anxious for us not to elevate the scope and intention of the forum beyond that which, in my view and that of the Government, is appropriate to maintaining the balance that I have described.

Mr. Peter Robinson

The Secretary of State mentioned the introduction to the Bill, which, of course, shows its purpose. That is defined as providing for elections for the purpose of providing delegates for negotiations, and it is stated that the Bill also provides for a forum. However, the clause deals with the purpose of the election, not the Bill's purpose, and that purpose is clear.

First, it is clearly to provide negotiators for the process about which the Secretary of State has spoken. It is equally clear that the purpose of the election is to create a forum in which those delegates will be present. That is outlined later in the Bill. As the purpose of the election is clear, I do not understand why the Secretary of State should be shy about placing that within the clause.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I understand the way in which the hon. Gentleman puts the matter. Clause 3(1) states: The delegates returned in accordance with Schedule 1 shall constitute a forum". That will be the consequence of the election, which will be of parties.

I shall ask the Committee to resist the amendments, whose consequence could be to elevate the function of the forum and the purpose of the election beyond what I have sought to describe. I appreciate that it is a matter of judgment and I do not say that the amendments would affect the legal consequences of the provisions. However, as everyone who has studied these matters knows, I have to have regard to impression and presentation. I shall not extend my reply, because to do that would be to reiterate what I have said. For the reasons that I have given, I invite the Committee to resist the amendments.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that, if the elections are seen as some sort of procedural fraud, having no merit in themselves except, as it were, like mayflies to fertilise negotiators and then sink back into the primaeval ooze, many people in Northern Ireland will say, "This whole business is just a procedural fraud, in which democratic procedures are being used to give a veneer of respectability to the effecting of a political purpose that has little or nothing to do with democracy"?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. and learned Gentleman and I have discussed this, and I have sought to reassure him that it will not be a single outing for a mayfly during which it can spread its gauzy wings. The forum will continue, with an important role, and the Bill sets out its purposes. It will continue for at least a year. I think that that is a sufficient answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's fears.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I greatly regret that the Secretary of State is not prepared to discuss this matter in depth. I am sure that we all started the debate with a great deal of good will, but if, at the beginning of the debate, we repeat points that have been put to him and the Secretary of State says, "I ask the Committee to resist the amendments and I shall make no further comment, " Northern Ireland Members may as well pack up and go home. I have been here for 26 years and I know that it is unusual at the early stage of a Bill for a Minister to say, "I ask the Committee to resist the amendments, and I am not prepared to answer the arguments."

Unionists as well as nationalists have fears. We have been bombarded by Dublin with vicious, unfair and scurrilous attacks on the idea of a forum and an election. There are people in Northern Ireland who will ask why, in the first stage of the Committee's consideration of the Bill, the Secretary of State cannot accept these amendments—which he accepts will not legally change anything about the forum—to let Northern Ireland's people know that people are being elected to a forum that will represent the wish of the electorate in Northern Ireland, and that they will express the wish of the electorate. They will be widely drawn.

4 pm

I have been told by other hon. Members that this is a great thing, that it is an innovation, and that, for the first time, we will have people at a forum who never in all their days dreamed that they could get there. When they do so, the Secretary of State seems to be afraid that they might be elevated to some place of pre-eminence above the negotiators, but if the negotiators are drawn largely from the forum—we know today that they will not all be drawn from the forum, that the Government representatives will not be elected, and that other people, who will probably even be defeated candidates wiped out at the general poll, will be nominated with the two delegates from parties that come in the first 10—surely the Secretary of State has nothing to fear from the wide spectrum from which the negotiators are to come. He seems to be afraid of the Unionists, and perhaps he is right, because the Unionist vote might surprise him and the Committee.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West)

I should like to make just a few points. We have much ground to cover in the next couple of days, so I shall not detain the Committee for too long.

This Bill is unprecedented. I do not think there are any precedents—there is certainly none in British history—that we can draw on to discover the substance of the arguments before us. There are no models to which we can readily draw to find out how this was done previously. We are breaking new ground, as much of the discussion and many of the points that have been raised so far on these amendments demonstrate.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that these things are matters of judgment. I make it plain that we, the official Opposition, fully support his judgment about the amendments. When the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) introduced them, I was trying to see the look on his face to see whether he was not being somewhat tongue in cheek in describing them as a mere tidying-up exercise. To put it at its mildest, they are much more than that.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), speaking immediately after him, rightly said that matters of principle were involved in relation to what the amendments seek to achieve. There is no doubt that many principles are involved in all the proposals. Some are valid, and some are not. All are important, but some are more important than others.

The reason why we support the Government's view on this is that we think that the amendments give an unnecessary preference and priority to the work of the forum, which, after all, has a whole clause devoted to it later in the Bill. Clause 3 goes into some detail about the forum's work and purposes, but the amendments give the forum a precedence that, to paraphrase the Secretary of State, would be unhelpful, in that it would confer no advantage in trying to take this process forward.

The process is about electing parties. Hon. Members mention those who will be elected by Northern Ireland's people in the elections in the near future and who will speak as their elected representatives. That is a valid dimension, but it is not by any means the sole purpose.

The purpose of the Bill is essentially a functional one. There are no deeply entrenched principles about how it should work, other than that it should work. It is a mechanism to draw together parties that would not otherwise be together and to try to engage in dialogue and understanding that has not obviously been evident in the past.

I have to say to those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, and those who will represent the people of Northern Ireland in the body that is to be set up, that they will also carry with them the profound hopes of many millions of their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom and from much wider afield, who will have no vote in the election but who wish all its participants well. We are considering nothing less than an integral part of the earnest search for a just and durable settlement, for the benefit of the people not only of Northern Ireland but throughout the UK, Ireland and further afield. We hope that all those taking part will bear that in mind.

The forum is an adjunct to the main purpose of the Bill. It will, as the Secretary of State says, have much valuable work to do, but the Bill is about far more than elections to a forum. We have high hopes of it. The road ahead—the clichés stream effortlessly—

Mr. Robert McCartney

I entirely endorse the lofty sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expresses about the future for peace, but is he aware that, if the Government and the Opposition push ramstam and wholly ignore the views of the representatives of a significant number of people—I am perhaps talking about "a" majority, not "the" majority of the people in Northern Ireland—the lofty objectives—

The Chairman

Order. I made it clear at the beginning that hon. Members must stick to the amendments.

Mr. Dowd


Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) wishes to carry the people of Northern Ireland with him, but saying that the forum is an adjunct to the negotiating body is like telling the people of Northern Ireland that they can elect a Parliament but that that Parliament does not matter—only the Government matter.

Mr. Dowd

I was somewhat depressed by the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) when he said that he might consider abandoning the procedures here today if he felt that he was not making sufficient progress. That would be a loss to our deliberations, although I suspect that it is not entirely unprecedented that he should consider such a course.

We are not debating a Parliament. We have to make it perfectly clear that we are not electing a Parliament. The Bill is about parties; it is about trying to bring together parties and the individuals who comprise them to describe a way ahead. The parallels with a Parliament or a wholly representative assembly, whether at the local or national level, are not accurate. This is very much a mechanism, or a means to an end.

Clearly we need to have due regard to democratic principles and practices. In response to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), the Committee of course has to have due regard to the opinions and voices not only of Northern Ireland but of the communities that make up the United Kingdom. However, nobody has the right to demand that that take precedence over the judgment of every Member of this House. Every hon. Member has a duty to try to give due weight to what is said by others on behalf of their constituents; but, ultimately, the right to decide rests with every individual, according to the evidence and his best judgment.

As I said, we realise that there are many obstacles, and many things that need to happen. It only needs one or two of those things not to happen for the whole process to come juddering to a halt. However, we set out on this course, if not with optimism, with hope. We sincerely hope that all those taking part in the deliberations—in the forum, in the negotiations and in the plethora of other unofficial organisations that are the inevitable spin-offs of such processes—will genuinely set out to make that process work on behalf of the people not only of Northern Ireland but of a much wider constituency.

Mr. William Ross

I have listened to the two Front-Bench speeches with increasing depression. We were told that the Opposition Front-Bench team supported the Government's judgment. In heaven's name, I have been in this place for 22 years, and I can think of very few occasions on which I have heard the Labour Front-Bench team support the judgment of the Conservative Front-Bench team. So what has changed? What wonderful act have the Government made on this occasion so that Labour—

Mr. Trimble

New Labour.

Mr. Ross

New Labour has got to the point where it is swiping not only the Conservatives' social and economic clothing, but every other thing it can to make certain that, whenever the election comes, it is so much like the Conservative party that it will not be possible to distinguish between them.

Mr. Dowd

The hon. Gentleman asked what is different on this occasion. On this occasion, the Government have come forward with a credible explanation for their position, which has been lacking in so much of the rest of their policies.

Mr. Ross

In those remarks, the hon. Gentleman threw away the principal job of the Opposition: to probe, criticise and expose to the light of day exactly what the Government are trying to do. The Opposition Front-Bench team is very far wrong in its judgment, because it is following the Government's judgment of the matter, which is, of course, so far away from reality that it does not bear thinking about.

In addition, the hon. Gentleman said that there were principles in the amendments and the Bill. The principles in the amendments are founded on normal democratic practice, and the principles in the Bill run directly counter to normal democratic practice. No one can deny that.

The Secretary of State said that they had to guard against elevating the forum. In other words, he was saying that we must elect a body in Northern Ireland and then bypass it as far as possible. He said that there would be much valuable work for the forum to do, but he has not yet specified it. I hope that, before these debates are finished, he will be able to specify it. I have tabled a number of very sensible amendments, some of which I hope will appear on the selection list tomorrow, so that we may explore matters in the depth they deserve, because there is much that the people of Northern Ireland would like to know.

The Secretary of State also talked about the Government delegation. Surely he meant the two Government delegations. He carefully avoided mentioning the second one. He went further and talked about the forum as a "gateway." It is, of course, a gateway to which all the nationalist parties object. Why anyone in their right senses would want to object to a forum that is democratically elected, heaven only knows—unless they have something to fear or hide.

The nationalist parties, and even the most violent republican parties, just wanted negotiations. They have already managed to get a non-conditional date of 10 June. The timetable, the whole process, is therefore tied to that date. The date was apparently extracted from the Government—whether willingly or otherwise, we have not yet been told—by Mr. Bruton, or so he says in the newspaper articles that I have read. Since we on this Bench happen to believe that this Mr. Bruton is acting as a spokesman for the IRA—

The Chairman

Order. I have some difficulty relating a newspaper article to the very specific amendment that the hon. Gentleman moved with great lucidity. He seems to have drifted away from it a little. Could we return to the amendment?

Mr. Ross

With the greatest respect, Mr. Morris, both Governments are involved. I was referring to the specific date of 10 June, which is written into all the proposed legislation. Although I bow to your judgment, it seems that, if I was out of order, it was by such a teeny-weeny bit that it could have easily been passed by. I regret the fact that you judge that my comments are far from the matters under discussion. No doubt, however, it will be possible to return to those points.

We are setting out to elect people to a forum that will have purposes that have not yet been specified and have not been clearly spelt out on the face of the Bill or in any other documentation. We are told by opposition parties in Northern Ireland that the intention is to limit the forum as much as is humanly possible—in fact, to hamstring it, so that it has no influence, and so that the elections have no influence, on the negotiating positions of the parties. The people of Northern Ireland will be surprised to learn that, because most of them do not yet understand what is being said.

4.15 pm

The Secretary of State also complained about the suggestion of using the word "shall" in place of the word "may." However, if he looks at the end of line 13, he will see that the Bill uses the word "shall". I wonder why the Secretary of State should use the word in one place and object so strenuously to it in another. The word "shall" places responsibility on him. Surely he should make it his business to accept our reasonable amendments.

The Secretary of State said that he was trying to strike a balance. In striking that balance, he has produced legislation that is so woolly that it can mean all things to all men. Given the long record of Government publications that could mean all things to all men, he cannot be surprised if people treat his words and the legislation with the most extreme suspicion.

The Government have been in office for a long time. The Unionist population have not seen anything done by the Government over the years which has helped the Unionist position. They have every reason to view the Government's words and legislation with great suspicion, not least because of the article, which I am sure the Secretary of State has had drawn to his attention, that was published in The Observer yesterday.

I also refer the Secretary of State back to November 1993, when he made certain denials in the House. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) found himself thrown out for accusations he made. Will the Secretary of State now stand by his statements on that occasion?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

indicated assent.

Mr. Ross

I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman nodding. No doubt he will now rise to his feet. However, he will have the greatest difficulty in convincing anyone in Northern Ireland of the accuracy of any statement he may care to make on that subject, today or in future. Over the years, he and the Government have put themselves in a position whereby every single word and act of theirs is treated with the gravest suspicion. That suspicion, in the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland, has a solid foundation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my name. Does he agree that it is a rarity for Labour Front-Bench Members to talk about my leaving meetings when they voted me out of the House because I spoke the truth?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman's words will no doubt be heard by Labour Front-Bench Members, and I hope that they will be heard by a wider public. In all truth, people should go back and read the events of 29 November 1993. If the Secretary of State disagrees with some of the things that are being said in the book that is to be published on Wednesday, and if he disagrees with what was in The Observer yesterday, he will no doubt take the appropriate action.

I believe that this legislation has been produced as a smokescreen to provide a gloss of democracy on decisions that have already been taken. I believe that, regardless of what the forum says, regardless of what the greater number in Northern Ireland say, and regardless of the views of the people of Northern Ireland, we shall see the Government trying to impose on Northern Ireland the framework document mark II. That is the reality. [Interruption.] If it is not, it is certainly the reality of the situation as seen by Dublin. We read with considerable care the statements that emanate from there. The Dublin Government are now clearly the joint rulers of Northern Ireland.

In the light of that, despite my grave disappointment in what the Secretary of State has said hitherto, and despite the suspicion with which I view him, I shall continue to listen to what he says; but my judgment will be made not on his words but on the whole generality of the evidence available to the Unionist population of Northern Ireland in the coming days and weeks.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so anxious to move forward, and unwilling to accept the reasonable changes suggested in our amendment, I am willing to withdraw it for now, but perhaps we may return to the subject on a future occasion. Whether the hon. Member for North Antrim shares my view, and what he intends to do about his party's amendment, is a matter for him.

Mr. Peter Robinson

We are off to a dismal and depressing start, as the Government crank up their bulldozer to push their measure through the House virtually, if not entirely, unchanged. There are two elements in the group of amendments before us, of which one set was tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), and the other is in my name.

The Secretary of State raised some technical objections to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, but he raised no such technical objections to my amendment; he simply relied on his judgment—a judgment on which not only he relies, because it now appears that the Opposition too, rely on it. That may cause them some embarrassment in the future, and we shall then be able to remind them how wise their judgment was.

In reality, the Secretary of State's sole reason for not accepting our reasonable amendment is the fact that he wants to upgrade the negotiating part of the process and downgrade the forum. It is therefore clear that those elected to the forum will be second-class citizens to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He is rendering much less meaningful the role of the forum in the whole process—a fact that will emerge from subsequent clauses, too.

It has to be said that clearly underlying the process is the fact that the IRA whipped the Government into line concerning the date by which the process had to be under way. Not only have the Government obviously obeyed that whip, by introducing the legislation with such haste, but now we see them again toeing the IRA's line: the IRA has openly demanded that the forum be downgraded, and the Government answer the IRA's call, under threat of IRA violence. That gives a very unpleasant picture of the retreat that the Government are enacting.

I am not prepared to refrain from pressing amendment No. 1. It is so reasonable that the Government should be ashamed of not accepting it, and I hope that no Member will shame himself or herself by voting against it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert 'and to create a forum constituted by those delegates'.—[Mr. Peter Robinson.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 217.

Division No. 101] [16.23 pm
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Trimble, David
Hoey, Kate
McCartney, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Mr. Peter Robinson and
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Rev. Ian Paisley.
Abbott, Ms Diane Gill, Christopher
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Gillan, Cheryl
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Golding, Mrs Llin
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Gorst, Sir John
Ashby, David Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Hague, Rt Hon William
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Hain, Peter
Bames, Harry Hannam, Sir John
Benton, Joe Hargreaves, Andrew
Betts, Clive Harris, David
Biffen, Rt Hon John Harvey, Nick
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hawkins, Nick
Booth, Hartley Hawksley, Warren
Boswell, Tim Heald, Oliver
Bowis, John Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Henderson, Doug
Brandreth, Gyles Hendron, Dr Joe
Brazier, Julian Hendry, Charles
Bright, Sir Graham Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Browning, Mrs Angela Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Budgen, Nicholas Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Burns, Simon Hume, John
Burt, Alistair Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Butler, Peter Hunter, Andrew
Callaghan, Jim Hutton, John
Canavan, Dennis Illsley, Eric
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Jenkin, Bernard
Carrington, Matthew Jessel, Toby
Cash, William Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Chidgey, David Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Coe, Sebastian Khabra, Piara S
Congdon, David Kirkhope, Timothy
Conway, Derek Kirkwood, Archy
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)
Corbyn, Jeremy Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Couchman, James Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Cran, James Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Legg, Barry
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Dover, Den Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe)
Dowd, Jim Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan Smith, Iain Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Dunn, Bob Lord, Michael
Dykes, Hugh Luff, Peter
Eagle, Ms Angela Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lynne, Ms Liz
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) McGrady, Eddie
Faber, David MacKay, Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Mackinlay, Andrew
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) McLoughlin, Patrick
Fishburn, Dudley McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Flynn, Paul Madden, Max
Forman, Nigel Maddock, Diana
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Major, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Malone, Gerald
Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley) Marlow, Tony
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
French, Douglas Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gapes, Mike Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gardiner, Sir George Merchant, Piers
Garnier, Edward Michael, Alun
Miller, Andrew Steen, Anthony
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stott, Roger
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Streeter, Gary
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mowlam, Marjorie Sykes, John
Murphy, Paul Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Norris, Steve Timms, Stephen
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Paice, James Tracey, Richard
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr lan
Pickles, Eric Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Pike, Peter L Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Pope, Greg Waller, Gary
Porter, David (Waveney) Waterson, Nigel
Powell, William (Corby) Watts, John
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Redwood, Rt Hon John Whitney, Ray
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Whittingdale, John
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Wicks, Malcolm
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Widdecombe, Ann
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Willetts, David
Shaw, David (Dover) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wilshire, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Skinner, Dennis Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wood, Timothy
Spearing, Nigel Worthington, Tony
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs) Yeo, Tim
Spink, Dr Robert Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spring, Richard
Sproat, Iain Tellers for the Noes:
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Mr. Richard Ottaway and
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Mr. Roger Knapman.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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