HC Deb 22 April 1996 vol 276 cc36-90
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I beg to move amendment No. 136, in page 1, line 11, leave out from 'in' to end of line 12 and insert 'Schedule (Ground Rules for All Party Negotiations), which shall have effect for the purposes of those negotiations.'.

The Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 137, in page 1, line 20, leave out 'Command Paper 3232' and insert 'Schedule (Ground Rules for All Party Negotiations) '. New schedule 1—Ground rules for substantive all-party negotiations: The basis, participation, structure, format and agenda of all-party negotiations—

1. The purpose of the negotiations shall be to achieve a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands, and to agree new institutions and structures to take account of the totality of relationships.

2. The negotiations shall, in a full and comprehensive fashion, address and seek to reach agreement on relationships and arrangements within Northern Ireland, including the relationship between any new institutions there and the Westminster Parliament; within the whole island of Ireland; and between the two Governments, including their relationship with any new institutions in Northern Ireland.

3. (1) Any participant in the strand in question shall be free to raise any aspect of the three relationships, including constitutional issues and any other matter which it considers relevant;

  1. (2). No outcome shall either be predetermined or excluded in advance; and
  2. (3). Participation in negotiations shall be without prejudice to any participant's commitment to the achievement by exclusively peaceful and democratic means of its own preferred options.

4.(1) The negotiations shall be structured so as to ensure that all issues will be addressed in a coherent and efficient manner in three interlocking strands, reflecting the three key relationships at issue, with appropriate distinctions as to participation and procedural arrangements.

  1. (2) Strand One shall cover relationships within Northern Ireland; Strand Two shall cover relationships within the island of Ireland; and Strand Three shall cover relationships between the British and Irish Governments.

5. If appropriate, committees and sub-committees may be established.

6. (1) The conduct of the negotiations shall be exclusively a matter for those involved in the negotiations. (2) Any reference to, or interaction with, the forum to be convened following the elective process held to determine which parties may participate in the negotiations may take place solely by agreement among the negotiating teams to this effect and only at their formal instigation.

7. Negotiations shall involve the participation, in the appropriate strands, of representatives of both Governments and all those political parties operating in Northern Ireland (hereafter referred to as "the political parties") which achieve representation through an elective process and which, establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process.

8. The participation in negotiations by any party shall require the unequivocal and permanent renunciation of violence.

9. (1) There shall be no limit on the overall size of the negotiating teams of the political parties and the two Governments (hereafter collectively referred to as "the participants"). (2) Notwithstanding subparagraph (I) or any one meeting, unless there is agreement otherwise, participants shall be limited to teams of three, plus three in support (five in support in the case of the two Governments).

10. The negotiating team of each political party shall be designated by the party chairman or leader from among the elected representatives and such teams may be supported in meetings by researchers and others who are not elected.

11. (1) Negotiations shall begin on Monday 10 June 1996 with an opening plenary session involving all the participants in the negotiations. (2) Each delegation shall have the opportunity to make an opening statement setting out its approach to the negotiations and its position on key issues.

12. (1) The agenda shall have as its first item confidence building issues including permanently renouncing the use of violence, the decommissioning of all illegally held weapons and explosives and the total and absolute commitment to the six principles in paragraph 20 of the Report of the International Body dated 22 January 1996.

  1. (2). Provided agreement is reached on the first item, the opening plenary session shall also adopt, and commit the participants to negotiate, a comprehensive agenda which provides reassurance, both in terms of agreeing to the report of the International Body and ensuring that a meaningful and inclusive process of negotiations is genuinely being offered.
  2. (3). This agenda shall include all the significant items which the various negotiating teams consider relevant.
  3. 38
  4. (4) The plenary session shall also decide how to deal with any procedural issues which may require resolution in the negotiations.

13. (1) The structure and process of the negotiations shall be used in the most constructive possible manner in the search for agreement. (2) Both governments shall therefore use their influence in the appropriate strands to ensure that all items on the comprehensive agenda are fully addressed in the negotiating process and shall commit themselves, for their part, to doing so with a view to overcoming any obstacles which may arise.

14. (1) All participants in the negotiations shall take part in good faith, shall seriously address all aspects of the agreed agenda, and shall make every effort to reach agreement. (2) They will maintain confidentiality on all aspects of the negotiations except where they may from time to time agree to publicity.

15. If, during the negotiations, any party demonstrably dishonours its commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the International Body by, for example, resorting to force or threatening the use of force to influence the course or the outcome of the negotiations, or failing to oppose the efforts of others to do so, it shall no longer be entitled to participate in the negotiations.

16. (1) Negotiations shall address all three interlocking sets of relationships as a totality.

  1. (2). Negotiations in each of the three interlocking strands shall open on the same day and will proceed in parallel.
  2. (3). Unless otherwise agreed by the Business Committee, negotiating sessions in different strands, or within strands, shall not be held simultaneously in order to allow participants, if they so wish, the option of fielding the same negotiating team throughout the negotiations.

17. (1) Negotiations on Strand One issues shall involve the British Government and the political parties.

  1. (2). Negotiations shall take place on the basis of an agreed agenda and in appropriate formations as agreed by the participants.
  2. (3). Formal meetings shall be chaired by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom operating procedural rules, agreed by the participants.
  3. (4). The Irish Government shall be kept informed of the progress achieved in Strand One through liaison arrangements agreed between the two Governments following consultation with the parties.

18. (1) Negotiations on Strand Two issues shall involve both the British and Irish Governments and the political parties.

  1. (2). Negotiations shall take place on the basis of an agreed agenda and in appropriate formations as agreed by the participants.
  2. (3). Formal meetings shall be chaired by an independent Chairperson operating procedural rules, agreed by the participants.

19. (1) Negotiations on Strand Three issues shall be between the two Governments. (2) With a view to providing a meaningful role for the political parties, the two Governments shall, during the course of their negotiations:

  1. (i) (ensure regular meetings at which the political parties shall be briefed and, as appropriate, consulted on progress in the negotiations, and at which they shall be able to put forward their views on Strand Three issues under discussion; and
  2. (ii). meet the political parties at their request for further discussion of Strand Three issues.
(3) The outcome of Strand Three shall be considered by all the participants alongside the outcome of the other two strands.

20. (1) The management of each strand shall be for the participants.

  1. (2) Notwithstanding subparagraph (1) above, a Business Committee composed of representatives of Her Majesty's Government in the UK and of the political parties, chaired by the independent Chairman of Strand Two or, otherwise, by any person agreed by the participants, shall be established to co-ordinate the progress and the procedures of the negotiations.
  2. (3). The Business Committee shall not deal with the substance of the negotiations but shall address unresolved procedural issues.
  3. (4). The Committee may also determine the modalities for dealing with any issue which does not fall exclusively within any of the three strands.

21.(1) The negotiations shall proceed on the principle that nothing may be finally agreed in any strand until everything is agreed in the negotiations as a whole. (2) Subject to the above principle, it shall nevertheless be possible, solely on the basis of consensus among the participants, to proceed on the assumption of contingent agreement on any individual aspect of the negotiations.

22. (1) The negotiations shall operate on the basis of consensus.

  1. (2). Notwithstanding subparagraph (1) above, if in Strand One or Two it proves impossible to achieve unanimity, the Chairman may, without prejudice to the provisions of the previous paragraph, operate on the basis of sufficient consensus among the political parties to allow negotiations to proceed.
  2. (3). The rules for establishing sufficient consensus shall be agreed in advance of negotiations by the participants and such rules shall ensure that any departure from the rule of unanimity is within minimal limits and shall, in all cases, ensure that any decision taken will be supported by a clear majority in both the unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland.
  3. (4). Additionally, as regards Strands Two and Three, both Governments shall have to endorse a particular proposition for it to be deemed to have achieved sufficient consensus.
  4. (5). The overall outcome across all three strands shall also need to attract a sufficient consensus from the participants.

23.(1) Strand One negotiations shall take place in Castle Buildings, Belfast.

  1. (2) Strand Two negotiations shall take place in Belfast, Dublin and London, at times agreed by the Business Committee.
  2. (3). The two Governments shall determine where Strand Three meetings shall take place.
  3. (4). The Business Committee shall determine the venue of its meetings.

24. The outcome of negotiations shall be submitted for public approval by referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, before being submitted to their respective Parliaments for ratification and the earliest possible implementation.

25. Only if a majority of those entitled to vote in Northern Ireland support the outcome of the negotiations in a referendum shall those proposals be put to the United Kingdom Parliament.'

Mr. Wilshire

The length of new schedule 1 impresses even me, but I am happy to confirm that I did not write it. The Government wrote the schedule, which is a key to what these amendments and this new schedule are all about—they seek to turn Command Paper 3232 into legislation. I believe that that is important because doing so will give Parliament a chance to debate the terms of the Command Paper and—if necessary and felt desirable by the Committee a chance to change those details.

The amendments' second purpose is to ensure that the Government get parliamentary approval for the conduct of the negotiations.

I contend that those purposes are very democratic, and, at least in principle, neither of them is controversial. During the course of debate today and tomorrow, we must never forget that the Committee will be debating a fundamental constitutional issue—which is, of course, why it is being debated on the Floor of the House. If we are debating a basic constitutional issue, it is right that Parliament should be able to debate and decide every part of the issue rather than leaving some or all of it to the Government.

I suspect that the Government, in reply to what I have to say, will probably say that these amendments would tie their hands. Because of my well-known reservations about what has been happening in the past 18 months, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be surprised to learn that that thought has crossed my mind, and that I do not think it is a bad thing to seek to tie the Government's hands. The way in which matters have progressed over the past 18 months has been a series of concessions to Dublin, in a manner with which I am unhappy. In the past 18 months, time and again, there have been futile attempts to buy peace from the IRA-Sinn Fein. I shall be grateful if these amendments can put a stop to those concessions and attempts to buy peace.

We need new schedule 1 quite simply because the Bill's real purpose is to set up negotiating teams and to carry out negotiations in Northern Ireland. If one reads the Bill, however, it says something about absolutely everything—except about the negotiations. The Bill mentions the method of election in great detail and spells out arrangements for the forum, but it is almost silent when it comes to the exercise's primary purpose—the negotiations. As I understand the situation in the House, if the details of the negotiation are not in the Bill they cannot be debated. Those details—the very purpose of the exercise—do not require Parliament's approval, and that has to be wrong.

New schedule 1 seeks to put matters right. The schedule is essentially—word for word—Command Paper 3232, inserted it into the Bill so that the House can debate it. Of course there is also some legal tidying up in the schedule—of the type whereby "shall" has been put in and "will" has been taken out. The lawyers tell me that those are significant changes, but, as a layman, I am not so sure that they are.

In addition to inserting this "tidied up" Command Paper into the Bill, I have, in doing so, made four major changes of substance. I shall explain them to the House, which I hope will enable us to debate the matter fully.

The first difference between the Command Paper and my new schedule is paragraph 9 of the Command Paper, which becomes paragraph 8 of my new schedule. Paragraph 9 of the command paper says that Sinn Fein-IRA cannot join in the negotiations until the ceasefire of August 1994 has been reinstated. That is the language of the Command Paper. Paragraph 8 of my new schedule says: The participation in negotiations by any party shall require the unequivocal and permanent renunciation of violence. The change from requiring simple restoration of the 1994 ceasefire to requiring a permanent and clear statement that this time it is for real is absolutely fundamental to the exercise in which we are engaged.

On Second Reading I asked both my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), to confirm that the next ceasefire had to be declared in words of total clarity which made it clear that this time it was permanent and for ever. Neither my right hon. and learned Friend nor the hon. Lady was prepared to say that. I said at the time, and I repeat now, that I am not prepared to accept that. My new schedule gives Parliament as a whole the chance to say whether it believes that next time any ceasefire must be declared to be permanent.

Let us not forget that the last ceasefire was a temporary truce. It was a ploy. If anyone doubts that, one has only to consider the evidence given last week about the bomber who blew himself up. It was confirmed that the planning and preparation for the bombing earlier this year was carried out during the so-called ceasefire last year. So the first change that the new schedule seeks to make is to spell out that next time any ceasefire will be declared to be permanent.

The second change that I propose is in paragraph 14 of the Command Paper, which becomes in my new schedule paragraph 12(1). The Command Paper says that the opening session of the negotiations will give priority to confidence building. My new schedule changes that to: The agenda shall have as its first item confidence building issues including pennanently renouncing the use of violence, the decommissioning of all illegally held weapons and explosives and the total and absolute commitment to the six principles". The Command Paper merely gives priority to confidence building, but new schedule 1 specifies doing certain things. I believe that those things need to be restated in the context of the negotiations because it was originally announced that the first ceasefire had to be called permanent before talks could start. If the House can remember back that far, it will recall that that requirement was abandoned.

My new schedule also says that decommissioning must be dealt with. If hon. Members think back, they will recall that decommissioning was said to be a requirement which must be fulfilled before talks could start. That has been abandoned. Now we are told that the Mitchell six principles must be signed up to. I keep hearing that. My new schedule will make sure that this time we do not have something explained to us which is then abandoned. It will be within the legislation. I consider that that has to be right. We must make it clear that item 1 on the first day will not only give priority to general confidence building, but will do specific things. We spell them out and make it clear that they will not be abandoned. Putting them into the legislation is one way of achieving that. My right hon. and learned Friend may well tell me that there are other ways of achieving that. If there are, I should be delighted to hear them and I should be happy, as I am sure other people would be, to consider alternative ways, but the point that I am getting at is of great importance.

4.45 pm

The third change that I seek to make to the Command Paper is in paragraph 14, which becomes paragraph 12(2) of the new schedule. Paragraph 14 says that, once priority has been given to confidence building, other things will happen at the first meeting. My new schedule says that, provided that agreement is reached on those confidence-building measures, other things will then happen. This is not merely a debating point. It will not merely make for better legislation. It will not merely tie the Government's hands a bit, which, as I explained, I believe is necessary. We must put it into the legislation because if no agreement is reached on the measures there will be no other talks. If that is the reality, let us reflect reality rather than going for a bit of pious hoping about what might happen. Until the issues of permanence, decommissioning and the Mitchell principles are met clearly, without doubt or fudge, nothing will happen, whether we want it to or not. The third change reflects that statement of reality.

The fourth change that new schedule 1 seeks to make is in paragraph 26 of the Command Paper and paragraph 24 of the new schedule. A new point is introduced in paragraph 25. Paragraph 26 of the Command Paper refers to referendums in Ireland—North and South". I do not need to labour the point because one has only to read the Second Reading debate to get the sense of what concerns me. Suffice it to say that in every document that I have ever seen relating to the Northern Ireland peace negotiations, a loose word or a phrase has never been thrown in because no one has got round to thinking it through carefully.

The Command Paper refers to Ireland north and south for a reason. We were not given that reason on Second Reading, although the matter was raised. Unless anyone wants to contradict me, I remain convinced that the phrase was put there to fudge the reality of the sovereign state called the United Kingdom, having Northern Ireland in it. That was put there to fudge the matter because the Dublin Government demanded it and the British Government gave in to that demand to try to keep the peace.

My new schedule corrects the balance and reflects the real world when it says that there will be a referendum in Northern Ireland—which is what it is called—and in the Republic of Ireland—which is what it is called.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the fudge of which he speaks has a precedent? The London form of the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985 referred to an agreement between the Republic of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland while the Dublin form was between the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom. That fudge was presumably required by articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.

Mr. Wilshire

That is correct and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman shares my view that that was not done by accident either. None of these things is done by accident. That is why new schedule 1 is necessary to put this particular mistake right.

The other part of the fourth change that I seek to make introduces paragraph 25 of the new schedule. I wrote the paragraph in at the end of the Government's Command Paper because I was given an assurance on Second Reading when I specifically asked to be told that there would have to be a referendum in Northern Ireland and that a majority of those voting in Northern Ireland would have to be in favour of the outcome of the negotiations for any progress to be made. I was given that assurance by the Government—I believe it, I am delighted and it is exactly what I feel is correct.

Because of that assurance, I assume that the Government will now have no objection to writing it into the Bill. New paragraph 25 says exactly what I heard said during the Second Reading debate—that only if a majority of those entitled to vote in Northern Ireland support the outcome of the negotiations in a referendum shall those proposals be put to the United Kingdom Parliament. That is what I believe I heard from the Government and that is what I believe the legislation should say.

I accept that the amendments and the new schedule join together two separate issues: putting the details of the negotiation into the Bill and changing the terms of the Command Paper. It may be that the principle of putting in the negotiations is acceptable and that the details of my changes are not. We will have the Report stage and the consideration before the other place to put the details right, if necessary. It may be that putting the whole of the Command Paper into law will make for rigidity—I can predict some of the things that will be said—and that rigidity is clearly not an ideal way in which to conduct negotiations.

However, if my chosen way of achieving these things is held to be not the best way, my four concerns that are spelt out in the changes in the new schedule will remain. If the four changes are to be addressed—and there are other ways—I hope that we hear them. We can then decide whether an alternative way of dealing with the four matters can be found over the next two days. If we do not find alternative ways, the next two days could get seriously bogged down because these are fundamental issues and we could face lots more Divisions, such as the one that we have just had.

In conclusion, I believe that the best way for harmony to break out in the next two days is for there to be a helpful start. If the Government could agree with these concerns and deal with them in whichever way they feel to be best, I am sure that that will make for shorter speeches, fewer divisions and a more agreeable two days.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) moved his amendment with characteristic robustness and I listened carefully to what he said. He was right in saying that I might suggest that what he is proposing is somewhat inflexible—indeed, I would go further than that and suggest that there could be serious disadvantages if we were to proceed in the way that he suggests.

I do not recognise in what I see before me in terms of the groundwork paper, the Command Paper, the concessions to Dublin to which he referred. This paper is the judgment of the two Governments as to the basis on which negotiations can be taken forward, but it is important to realise—I shall come back to this point—that the conduct of the negotiations is for those involved in them. I believe that that is an important point, and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) appear to agree with that suggestion.

Mr. Trimble

As the Minister says, the paper represents the present judgment of the two Governments. I am sure that he will acknowledge that if and when the process moves forward and comes into the purview of the parties of Northern Ireland, whatever might have been the judgment of the two Governments up until then will to some extent be replaced by the contribution of the parties from Northern Ireland. As we found in 1992, in many cases the contribution of the Northern Ireland parties will be more positive and a better way of doing things than that prescribed by the two Governments.

Mr. Ancram

I hear what the hon. Member for Upper Bann has to say—indeed, he outlined his views during the Second Reading debate and it was on that basis that I was confident that he, at least, would not wish to see the rules by which negotiations would be conducted written into statute. At the same time, it is right to say that the negotiations are not part of this legislation—I accept that. The legislation is there to provide for entry into the negotiations, but once the negotiations take place they will be for the participants to conduct.

Experience suggests—particularly experience of the 1991–92 talks—that if they are to serve their purpose, the negotiations that we are setting in train need to be flexible and capable of responding to the wishes of the negotiators. The hon. Member for Upper Bann has said that he has wishes that he wants to make known. In addition, the negotiations should not be confined or constrained by statute.

All participants will want to start the negotiations on the basis of a clear understanding of the way in which they are to be conducted. That is why—after consultation with the political parties—we have published the Command Paper that is our best judgment as to the most suitable and broadly acceptable ground rules. They do not have statutory force because the negotiations, rightly, are not established by statute. I hope that the paper represents a basis on which the parties can agree to participate in the negotiations.

The key message, however—I mentioned this on Second Reading and I repeat it today—is to be found in paragraph 7 of the Command Paper, which states: The conduct of the negotiations will be exclusively a matter for those involved in the negotiations. I was interested to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne left that passage in the ground rules that he has sought to bring into statute. There is a contradiction in trying to make statutory something which, in its own terms, allows for the conduct to be a matter for those involved in the negotiations.

It is important to understand that we are trying to seek a new consensus on how Northern Ireland is to be governed and how it fits into the other relationships within these islands. We are seeking an agreed outcome to which the parties representing all parts of the community can give their assent and which is then put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum for their approval. Consensus and consent are essential if this process is to succeed.

Mr. William Ross

The Minister has used rather peculiar language: he said that Northern Ireland fits into other relationships within these islands. Will he and the Front Bench get it through their heads once and for all that the Unionist parties are interested only in Northern Ireland's place in this kingdom?

Mr. Ancram

One of the relationships that has been referred to at times when we have spoken about these negotiations is the relationship that would exist between institutions in Northern Ireland and institutions in this Parliament. That is an example of relationships within these islands. It has been accepted for a long time that if we are to find a comprehensive answer, the relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—and, indeed, the relationships between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom—are also relevant. A number of relationships have to be taken into account.

I was making the point that if the negotiations are to succeed they must be based on consensus and agreement. If that is to be achieved, the greatest degree of flexibility to allow that to occur is necessary.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I am sure that the Minister appreciates, as do all hon. Members, that there are certain of these proposed ground rules—such as the renunciation of violence and the acceptance of the democratic principle—to which there must be an absolute commitment in order to participate. Does the Minister agree that it would not be necessary for every participant in the negotiations to agree to every ground rule in order to enter into negotiations and to participate?

Mr. Ancram

I believe we mentioned that on Second Reading. According to the ground rules, the participants must agree among themselves before the negotiating process begins what agreement will mean in the negotiating process. It is important that, before negotiations take place, we are able to agree on the way in which consensus—or sufficient consensus, as the Command Paper suggests—can be ascertained. Again I quote paragraph 7: The conduct of the negotiations will be exclusively a matter for those involved in the negotiations. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at one stage described the negotiators as masters of their own procedures; I believe that that is correct, and that is the way in which progress can be made with such negotiations.

I will discuss some specific points in a moment, but first I shall say that this process, by its nature, is unsuitable for tight statutory definitions and procedures. All those likely to be involved in it would agree that there must be flexibility.

Mr. McCartney

indicated assent.

Mr. Ancram

I see the hon. and learned Member for North Down nodding again.

5 pm

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My right hon. Friend spoke about referendums. A lot of my colleagues and hon. Friends have been stunned by the reference in one of the documents to holding referendums in "Ireland—North and South". My understanding is that there is the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom is one entity and the Republic of Ireland is another entity. If one is talking about "Ireland—North and South", the implication is that Ireland is about to become that entity. My right hon. Friend will understand that that is very disconcerting for a large number of colleagues in the House. Will he explain?

Mr. Ancram

If I may, I will explain later, because my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne raised this as a specific point and I wish to discuss his points in the sequence in which he raised them. I can say at this stage that if the interpretation by hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) were correct it would indeed be stunning, and I hope to satisfy him that it is not correct.

I am saying, in essence, that I believe that amendments Nos. 136 and 137 would constrain the process of negotiation. The negotiations must proceed at a pace and in a manner that the negotiators are happy with. We have set out our best judgment in the Command Paper, but if the negotiators themselves, by agreement and consensus, find it better to proceed differently, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so.

I therefore urge the Committee not to make what will already be a difficult enough task more difficult by accepting the amendments, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will understand the value of the remarks that I have made in this context and will be prepared to seek leave to withdraw his amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne firmly drew our attention to areas of the ground rules that he wished to amend. I hope to answer his points. The first related to his new paragraph 8, which would provide that participation in negotiations by any party would require the unequivocal and permanent renunciation of violence. That would move away from the need for the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of 1994. In replacing paragraph 9 of the ground rules with what appears to be the rather simpler approach of paragraph 8 of the new schedule, there is a risk that some key elements have—unintentionally, I am sure—been abandoned. I cite, for example, the lack of a clear link to events on the ground.

We know from experience—I believe that it was mentioned on Second Reading—that Sinn Fein as a party is adept at claiming to be committed exclusively to peaceful means. For reasons that we well know, it is vital, in our view, and in the view of the Irish Government, that Sinn Fein' s participation in negotiations be accompanied by an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire. On further commitment to peaceful means, I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne by saying that the fact that at the start of the negotiating process all participants will have to commit themselves totally and absolutely to the six Mitchell principles will more than cover the areas that he mentioned.

Mr. William Ross

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that Sinn Fein constantly attempts, when it suits it, to put clear blue water between itself and the IRA. The Government have always taken the view that the two are inextricably linked. Given the comments that he has just made, do the Government adhere to the view that they are so inextricably linked as to be one and the same organisation?

Mr. Ancram

That question has been asked several times. I believe that it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said that members of one are members of the other. The key is to consider what members of Sinn Fein, if they were to be invited to the negotiations, would have to commit themselves totally and absolutely to. I shall not go through all six principles because they are available to hon. Members, but I remind them that members of Sinn Fein would have to commit themselves to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues Another of the principles is: To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the outcome of all-party negotiations". I believe that the fears that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, is expressing are covered in those principles, enunciated by Senator Mitchell in his report of 24 January.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows what Gerry Adams said a few hours ago—that he would present himself, with his delegates, at the negotiating table on 10 June, that he would not tolerate any conditions whatsoever, and that he would have a mandate. He said that he would also demand that the negotiations should deal with the republican consensus—that would be its business—and with getting British rule out of Ireland.

If those are the remarks that Mr. Adams made—they were widely reported everywhere—how, in the name of goodness, will the Secretary of State decide on 10 June if some other statement is made by the same gentleman, if one can call him a gentleman, that things are different and that those people have forsworn their violent ways and violent manners?

Mr. Ancram

I do not want to pre-empt discussions later in the debate on the clauses about the qualifications on my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State inviting parties to participate in or send negotiators to the negotiations. I would say, however, that the two Governments have said—it is part of the Command Paper and part of the communiqué—that Sinn Fein could not be involved in a resumption of ministerial dialogue, or participate in negotiations, without an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994. So the gentlemen to whom the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) refers may talk about coming to the negotiations, but both Governments have made it clear that being invited to participate in the negotiations requires a total and absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles and, as we shall see later, that must be reiterated at the opening of negotiations. I ask the hon. Gentleman to read the Command Paper rather than necessarily listening to some of the rhetoric that may be being spouted on the radio and elsewhere outside the House.

Mr. Wilshire

I want to take my right hon. Friend back to a point that he has made again in reply to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). Did I hear him correctly when he said that everyone who takes part in the negotiations will have to sign up to every last one of the Mitchell principles, without exception or qualification? If that is so, can he confirm that each and every person taking part will have to do that before anything else happens?

Mr. Ancram

I refer my hon. Friend to paragraph 12 of the communiqué between the two Governments, which makes it clear that all participants would need to make clear at the beginning of the discussions their total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the international body. On Second Reading, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State read those six principles into the record again, to make it completely clear that those are the six principles to which total and absolute commitment by the participants would be required.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, before Sinn Fein-IRA can participate in any discussions following the elections, they must sign up to every one of the Mitchell principles without qualification? Is that the position—yes or no?

Mr. Ancram

My hon. Friend should look closely at the communiqué, which makes the position clear. I shall develop that point later as he has asked a proper question. The communiqué makes it clear that there must be total and absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles at the beginning of the process if those making that commitment are to continue to participate in the process. That point has been clear for a long time—certainly since 28 February—and it is reiterated in the Command Paper in order to make it clear beyond peradventure that it is not simply the statement of the two Governments, but is part of the ground rules that we hope will provide the basis for beginning the negotiations.

The Chairman

Order. Before the Minister goes any further, I remind him that we shall be dealing later with amendment No. 2, which appears to refer to some of the detail and covers some of the issues being addressed by hon. Members.

Mr. Ancram

I seek your guidance on that point, Mr. Morris. As the new schedule introduces all of the provisions, I am uncertain as to whether I am duty bound to respond to comments about them.

The Chairman

The Minister is quite right: the new schedule is far reaching. However, if a Member takes an intervention and realises that the points will be covered by subsequent amendments, he or she should decide whether to resist responding to that intervention.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to you, Mr. Morris, for offering that gentle advice. I shall try not to cover areas to which we shall return when considering later amendments.

Mr. Marlow

In the interests of clarity—we do not need to read out the text again—will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) is yes?

Mr. Ancram

Yes. I have said that the participants—the parties to the negotiations—will be required to make clear their total and absolute commitment. I do not think that I can say more than that: it is clear not only on my part, but on the part of the two Governments and in the Command Paper. I hope that that is sufficient reassurance.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will recognise that the first change to the Command Paper would not necessarily help—in many ways it would be more restrictive than the existing provisions.

Mr. William Ross

I seek the Minister's assistance with one or two matters about which I am not clear. He referred to participants having to sign up to many wonderful things. Do "participants" mean a party or parties, individuals, or both? In either case, will the commitment that is given be in much stronger and clearer terms than the existing declaration for those who serve on councils?

Mr. Ancram

It means the parties to the negotiations—which is not just the political parties, but the two Governments.

Mr. Ross

And the individuals?

Mr. Ancram

The delegates to the negotiations attend on behalf of their parties.

In the light of your comments, Mr. Morris, I shall not detain the Committee unnecessarily. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne referred to two sets of changes, but I shall deal with them as one. They deal with the ways in which the process will move forward after the beginning to which I have referred. The communiqué and the ground rules make it clear that at that stage the Mitchell proposals on decommissioning and the other confidence-building measures must be addressed.

When we discussed the matter recently on Second Reading, the general view of the parties and certainly that of the hon. Member for Upper Bann—he is not in his place at present, but I am sure that he will not mind my referring to his remarks on that occasion—was that we must be clear before 10 June about the procedures that will be adopted. In replying to the debate, I said that there must be further discussion and consultation with the parties in order to determine how the procedures will operate.

5.15 pm

I do not think that it serves any great purpose to lay down hard and fast rules in this place before those consultations take place and different views are expressed. I think it is correct to proceed on the understanding that we must be clear about the matter before negotiations begin. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the strength of that argument—it was employed with effect by the hon. Member for Upper Bann in his speech last Thursday. My hon. Friend should recognise that his suggestions are perhaps not the best way to proceed.

I turn now to the point that my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North—who has now left the Chamber—raised about the referendums, which are referred to at the end of the Command Paper. Paragraph 26 of that paper reaffirms the intention already made clear by each Government respectively—I emphasise the word "respectively". In October 1994, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave an undertaking that any outcome agreed by the parties would be submitted to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum for their approval before being put to Parliament. That makes it clear that there will be a referendum on the outcome of the talks held in Northern Ireland for the people of Northern Ireland to agree or disagree to the propositions being put forward before the matters may come before Parliament. That was the position set out by my right hon. Friend some time ago and it remains the position today.

Equally, it is common ground that a successful outcome would require, among other things, constitutional change in the Irish Republic. That, in itself, would require a referendum. Therefore, the two Governments have stated that the outcome of the negotiations will be submitted for public approval by referendums in the north and in the south which will come under the jurisdiction of each Government respectively.

Mr. Wilshire

As to my right hon. Friend's point about a referendum in the south, I did not refer to that for the simple reason that I consider it impertinent to mention the internal affairs of a foreign country—and I wish that Dublin would have regard to that principle when it comes to Northern Ireland affairs. As well as restating that there will be a referendum in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend put me out of my misery by confirming that, if the referendum does not produce a majority, the matter will not be brought before Parliament?

Mr. Ancram

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the triple locks: the requirement for the agreement, first, of the parties; secondly, of the people of Northern Ireland by way of a referendum; and thirdly—and in that order—of Parliament. My hon. Friend is correct: if the people of Northern Ireland were to vote against the propositions, they would not be brought before Parliament.

Although my hon. Friend says that he does not wish to intervene in the affairs of another country, it is important that he should appreciate that the negotiations and the balance of the package might require changes to the Irish constitution, which in turn would require a referendum in the south. It is therefore not possible to look at these matters in isolation, even though we might like to.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I am sure that the Minister appreciates that words are very important when it comes to the confidence-building measures. Reference was made earlier to referendums in "both parts of Ireland—North and South", or words to that effect, rather than in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. The Minister must appreciate that the terms of the Downing street declaration gave great offence to an overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland as that document never once referred to the British citizens of Northern Ireland. That confidence-building measure appears to be absent from the terms of this document also.

Mr. Ancram

The word "respectively" is there for a good purpose, but I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman from the Dispatch Box that a referendum will be held in Northern Ireland, which will require the assent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, if any proposition is to proceed to Parliament as a result of the negotiations.

Mr. Marlow

I am sorry, but I had to nip out for a second. I do not think that my right hon. Friend answered the point that I made. Would it not have been more straightforward, traditional, and clearer and easier for his colleagues on this side of the House if instead of reading "Ireland—North and South" the document had read "Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic". Why did it not say that?

Mr. Ancram

It might, in some circumstances, have been easier, but it does not say that. From the Dispatch Box, I am trying to explain to and, I hope, reassure my hon. Friend that his concern is ill founded and that the unease that he feels as a result of the misinterpretation is therefore not merited.

Mr. William Ross

As the Minister has proceeded, some of us have felt more and more disquiet. It seems that in this instance the Government are leaning over backwards to adopt the language of the most violent of republicans. It is the sort of language that we hear from Sinn Fein, the IRA and occasionally from those close to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). We all know that the Government do not use that sort of language without thinking about it. There must have been some reason for using that language and we simply have not been given a reason. Why will the Minister not tell us why those words have been used rather than the correct appellations? All that the Minister is doing is increasing our suspicions.

Mr. Ancram

The language is not new. If my memory serves me right, the hon. Gentleman will find similar language in paragraph 4 of the Downing street declaration of 15 December 1993.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

Let me complete this point, because it is important. The Government are responsible for this jurisdiction and I say from the Dispatch Box, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said before, that any proposition or agreement that comes from the negotiations will be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum, and only if it passes that referendum will it proceed to this Parliament. It is my understanding that to make constitutional changes—which might be, especially in the eyes of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), an important part of a settlement—will require a referendum in the south. That is a matter for the Irish Government, but I understand that that might be necessary. Therefore, they have said in their turn that they would also hold a referendum.

Mr. Taylor

The term "Ireland—North and South" has created much unease in Northern Ireland. It is not a confidence-building term, and it is causing increasing unease on both sides of the Committee this afternoon. Under the Ireland Act 1949, the term "Republic of Ireland" is defined in the legislation of this nation. In what legislation is the term "Ireland—South" defined?

Mr. Ancram

At the moment, I cannot say more than I have said. We are not considering legislation.

Mr. Taylor

We are.

Mr. Ancram

No. I have advised the Committee that the term should not be brought into the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne is trying to make it part of the legislation and I have said that I do not think that it should be part of the legislation. I have been asked a direct question about what the reference to referendums "respectively" in the north and south means and I have given a complete and categorical answer. I cannot give greater reassurance than that because there is no greater reassurance available.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

I must draw my remarks to a conclusion, but if the right hon. Member wishes to speak, I will give way.

Mr. Taylor

I simply wish to pursue the matter. The Minister has dodged my question by saying that we are not considering legislation. But we are considering a Bill that makes specific reference to Command Paper 3232, which uses the term "Ireland—North and South". I ask the Minister to tell the House under what legislation the term "Ireland—South" is defined and in which counties will a referendum be used?

Mr. Ancram

So far as I know, the term has not been used. I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that Command Paper 3232 is not part of the legislation. The legislation refers to identifying negotiations in terms of the Command Paper, but the Command Paper is not part of the legislation. Indeed, a later amendment will further specify the connection between the legislation and the Command Paper. I hope that we can deal with the subject when we come to the later amendment.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as ever, intends to be completely and totally helpful. I will give way, but we should try to bring this part of the debate to a conclusion.

Mr. Robinson

Will the Minister confirm that if he had wished to introduce such terms in the legislation, they would not have been acceptable, and that it would therefore not be acceptable for Ministers to use them in the House in general debate?.

Mr. Ancram

I would take advice from the draftsmen, but the hon. Gentleman is probably right that there are terms that are used in legislation, but the Command Paper is not part of the legislation and I am resisting the attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne to make it part of the legislation.

Mr. William Ross

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ancram

Yes, as we are in Committee.

Mr. Ross

If the Minister has now admitted that the terms could not be used in legislation, he has also admitted the sensitivity of the language used in the Command Paper. Would not it be wiser, for the sake of everyone, for the Minister to be precise and accurate in his language at all times, instead of using the woolly terms that are designed by republicans to cause maximum offence to the Unionist population, and indeed do?

Mr. Ancram

In the light of this debate, I will try in future to use language that is accurate in the terms that the hon. Member has suggested. The whole process will have to operate by consensus and on the basis of careful balance.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I appreciate the difficulty that the Minister is in, but he must also appreciate that those words have a real significance in Northern Ireland. If the Minister is keen to instil some confidence in the Unionist population, all Ministers in all documents should stick to the legal terms, "Northern Ireland" and "Irish Republic". If they did that, especially in documents in which the Irish Government have a say, we would see a real difference in perception by the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ancram

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I hope that the clear indications that I have given from the Dispatch Box have left him in no doubt about what the language is intended to mean and that he will help me to ensure that people in Northern Ireland are fully aware of that position.

We are involved in a balancing exercise and there must be a degree of flexibility. I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne that in my view his amendments would not make the process of reaching a result easier—as he and I would wish. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will seek leave to withdraw his amendments.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

The Opposition cannot support the amendments; if they were pressed to a Division we would not support them. We believe that the ground rule document is clear. It is described as the best judgment of the two Governments on the most suitable and broadly acceptable ground rules that can be produced for the elections. The Government have tried to reach a consensus. They have consulted all the political parties to try to achieve agreement. It would be unfortunate if we were now to be delayed by the incorporation of the new schedule. It would be debated at length as part of the legislation and, perhaps, lead to further delays.

As the Minister pointed out, paragraph 7 of the Command Paper states that the rules for the negotiations will be left to the parties themselves to organise and negotiate. If I heard him correctly, he also said that there would be further consultations between now and 10 June, when those negotiations will take place. So, after the Bill has been passed, there will be further opportunities for the political parties to put forward their points of view on the ground rules.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that parliamentary approval should be required for the ground rules. In our opinion, the Minister made the status of those rules clear today, as did the Secretary of State on Second Reading, and we feel that they are the best that could be achieved. If parliamentary approval were sought for the new schedule, it is unlikely that any further consensus would be achieved: it is obvious that it is simply not there.

5.30 pm

The hon. Gentleman cited four respects in which his new schedule differed from the existing ground rules. He made great play of the question of the ceasefire and the report of the international body. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State made it plain that all participants would be required to accept the principles of the Mitchell commission. Paragraph 13 of the ground rules quotes the communiqué of 28 February, which states that all participants would need to make clear at the beginning of the discussions their total and absolute commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the International Body. It has been made clear throughout today's debate, and on Second Reading, that those requirements would be in place. If they were not, the negotiations would not take place, because the other parties would not take part unless such commitments were given by all participants.

We cannot support the wording of paragraph 25 of the new schedule. I understand that further amendments, to be debated later today or tomorrow, will enshrine the principle it sets out, but we cannot accept the requirement for a majority of those entitled to vote; we believe that the majority should be of those voting.

As I said, if the amendments are pushed to a Division, we will not support them.

Mr. Peter Robinson

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said at the beginning of his speech that he was happy to confirm that he had not drafted the new schedule. I understand why he would want to dissociate himself from it. I agree with him that it is valuable for the participants to have clear ground rules in the Bill, but the ground rules in the new schedule—taken almost directly from the Command Paper, which itself resulted from the consultation on the ground rules produced by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic—are so flawed that even the hon. Gentleman's most valiant efforts would not enable them to be sufficiently sanitised to become part of United Kingdom legislation.

The wording of one small part of the new schedule has been referred to in detail. A number of hon. Members have taken offence at the use of such terms as "Ireland—North and South", although there is nothing new about them: they have featured in documents that the Government have been prepared to sign in the past. During the last series of talks, I spent no end of time trying to remove terminology of that kind. Those who produced the ground rules that gave rise to the Command Paper and the new schedule knew full well that they were using wording that was unacceptable to the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland—and, I suspect, to a large section of the community of the United Kingdom as a whole—but they also knew the purpose of that wording. They knew that the words, "Ireland—North and South" suggested the existence of a political entity known as Ireland, when no such entity exists.

The draft consultation paper produced for the ground rules contained terminology such as among the people of the island of Ireland", which suggested that there was one people on the island of Ireland. There is nothing of the sort, and I was glad to note that, when that offensive language was brought to the Minister's attention, he made efforts to ensure its removal. I hope that, now that the House has drawn his attention to the degree of offence caused by the terminology in the ground rules and the new schedule, he will fight with equal vigour to ensure that it, too, is not used again.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Would not it have been impossible for the Government of the Republic of Ireland to agree with Her Majesty's Government on the ground rules if the term "Northern Ireland" had been used? To accept in any form that Northern Ireland exists as part of the United Kingdom would be contrary to the claims made in articles 2 and 3 of its constitution, which the Irish Supreme Court has defined as a constitutional imperative.

Mr. Robinson

That is undoubtedly true. Furthermore, the Government of the Republic would not have been prepared to use the terms "Irish Republic" or "Republic of Ireland"—usage that would be acceptable to those drafting legislation for the House of Commons. May I make a minor correction? The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the two separate covers for the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The cover for the Irish Republic was that it was the Government of Ireland, and the agreement was between the Governments of Ireland and Great Britain.

We must examine the precise words that are being used. Over the past few minutes, the hon. Member for Spelthorne has repeatedly sought to extract from the Government confirmation that, before they could move any further, all those who would be present at the negotiations would be required to sign up to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the international body.

The communiqué says that the participants would need to make clear their commitment to those principles. That is not the most precise language. I "would need" to be in bed early tonight, but that does not mean that I shall; indeed, it is most unlikely that I shall. Simply to say that something "would need" to happen does not suggest any precise requirement. That is why, on Second Reading, the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) suggested that the word "must" should be substituted—a suggestion that was not taken up by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Later amendments will attempt to make the wording much more precise.

Mr. Illsley

The communiqué states that all participants would need to make clear at the beginning of the discussions their total and absolute commitment". That could be taken to mean clarifying a commitment that was given before the start of the negotiations.

Mr. Robinson

It could mean a good many things: that is the problem. Given the importance of the matters with which we are dealing, I agree with the hon. Member for Spelthorne that it is important for us to know precisely what the criteria are. His new schedule is intended to lay down the criteria that would move the process forward. As the Minister has made clear, there are other ways of doing that, and such attempts will be made later.

I have not emerged from the mood of depression. Although the Minister was encouraged by the hon. Member for Spelthorne to say that, if he did not intend to approach the issues by way of a new schedule, he would at least address them by some other means, unfortunately, he was not prepared to take up that opportunity.

The language of the Command Paper is flawed, and my colleagues and I have made it clear that we would rely on the terms of paragraph 7 of the ground rules, which state: The conduct of the negotiations is to be exclusively a matter for those involved in the negotiations". We have made it clear that we do not accept the ground rules and that we and all other participants in the negotiating process will look at an early stage at agreed ground rules for the process. For those reasons, I cannot support the precise wording of the proposed new schedule and, if it is pushed to a Division, I shall not support it. However, I support the purpose behind its introduction.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The new schedule gives us an opportunity for wider debate on many of the ground rules. Some of the issues that emerged from the Minister's initial response were most disturbing and they will have increased unease in Northern Ireland. First, it is becoming quite clear that he is thinking in geographical terms about the island of Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and not in constitutional or legal terms. When he uses the term "Ireland—North and South" he is using it geographically. There is no definition in law or in our constitution—or in that of the Republic of Ireland—defining Ireland, north or south.

For the people of Northern Ireland—which is the proper term—Ireland, south is Cork and Ireland, north is Donegal. Those are geographical terms and they are all that the Minister is using. It is not good enough to ask hon. Members to agree to a process that is based simply on geographical terms, because each one will interpret the geography differently. The Minister has not accepted the challenge to define Ireland, south. Is it just Cork and Kerry or is there more to it? It is time that the Minister told us. He should not sit in silence. We ask him to respond.

My second point centres on a matter of even more concern. When the Minister spoke about the Mitchell principles, it emerged that the members of the new forum will not have to subscribe to them. I do not think that many people in the United Kingdom have fully grasped that reality. What is even worse is that members entering the negotiations will not have to subscribe to those principles as individuals. That will be done simply by their parties. That was news to me, and it will be badly received in Northern Ireland that each person entering the negotiations will not have to subscribe to the Mitchell principles. Members elected to local authorities are required individually to subscribe to certain documentation. It is not done by the parties on their behalf, but in this case the Government have apparently opted out of individuals' subscribing to the Mitchell principles: it will be done by the secretariat or by party leaders. I want a response to that issue.

5.45 pm
Mr. William Ross

Although my right hon. Friend is aware of this, perhaps we should remind the House that some people in Northern Ireland have always been able to say that they took oaths with mental reservations. It will be perfectly plain to everyone that it will be much easier to have a mental reservation if a party leader rather than the individual gives the commitment.

Mr. Taylor

It might not even be the party leader. It is left open to the Secretary of State to invite someone whom he assumes to be a party leader to make decisions on the party's behalf.

The new schedule contains a matter that I mentioned on Second Reading, and I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has repeated it. Paragraph 1 rightly refers to relationships between, the peoples of these islands". As the Government now prefer to use geographical rather than constitutional terms, I can say that we are discussing an improvement in relationships between the peoples of the British Isles, because that is what the paragraph means in geographical terms.

However, paragraphs 2 and 4(2) show that the hon. Member for Spelthorne, like the Government, has narrowed the wider and more important issue of improving relationships between the peoples of the British Isles so that it is restricted solely and totally to covering just the relationships between the two Governments. Paragraph 2 mentions just "the two Governments" and paragraph 4(2) refers to relations between the British and Irish Governments". I regret that, and it is one of my reasons for not supporting the new schedule. In the wider negotiations that should take place in which all issues should be addressed, an important matter is the improvement in relationships between the peoples of these islands. It should not be restricted simply to the two Governments talking to each other.

Mr. Wilshire

I think that the Minister tried twice to pay me a compliment when he said that I was being robust. I warn him that I consider that to be my moderate approach and that he may wish not to find me in a robust mood. The Minister said that there would be a serious disadvantage in accepting my amendments and the new schedule; but there will be a disadvantage if we do not, because we will have missed the chance to curb the Government's over-enthusiasm in negotiating. Despite my reservations, neither the Ulster Unionist party nor the Democratic Unionist party are prepared to support me and, in terms of the principle, I know when I am beaten.

Mr. Robinson

We support the principle.

Mr. Wilshire

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will vote for me if I get around to forcing a Division.

I raised four issues and the Minister dealt with some of them more fully than others. I say that gently. On the matter of permanence and my insistence of a declaration on that, I think that the Minister said that I was being too simple and that my language left something to be desired. One must be careful not to confuse simplicity with clarity. I do not see what could be clearer than my phrase, "permanent renunciation of violence." The Minister said that Sinn Fein/IRA are past masters at exploiting vagueness. My clarity of phrase should, therefore, have commended itself.

Despite what I have heard in the debate, I still think that the six Mitchell principles are not enough and that permanence must be included. However, it is clear from the amendment paper that we can return to that matter. As for the two items that I raised about the negotiations' agenda, may I say a simple thank you to my right hon. Friend the Minister for saying, "Yes, they must sign up to Mitchell six." That is important. I know that it might have taken us slightly longer than we would have liked, but we got the simple word yes, which is important. I hope that that message goes out from here. Now that we have reached the stage of saying that those people must sign up to that principle, I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that my new clause 2 is the ideal way in which to give effect to their having to say yes.

On the referendum issues, I wish that I could buy the argument that the reference to "Ireland—North and South" was simply sloppy drafting, but nothing that I have heard persuades me that it is as simple as that. Again, may I simply say thank you to my right hon. Friend for the assurance that, if there is no majority in a referendum in Northern Ireland. matters will go no further? We have clarified that point.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), who spoke for the Opposition, explained that he could not support my amendments and went on almost to apologise for that. It is a strange old world when the Labour party apologises to me for not agreeing with me, but I understand his point. At a slightly more serious level, he said that the Bill as it stood was the best that could be achieved. That is what is wrong with so much of the negotiating that has taken place. Some people are prepared to approach the matter by saying, "If we cannot achieve that, so what? Let's give up." I worry when a Labour party spokesman says that this is the best that can be achieved.

Mr. Illsley

Just to clarify the matter, I intended to say that the ground rules—not the legislation—were the best that could be achieved after the Government's discussions with the political parties.

Mr. Wilshire

I am grateful for that. That sorts that issue out, but it is important not to signal to anyone that there is nothing on which we are prepared to say no and mean it.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman has just touched on an important point. Many people wonder why we must always steer a middle course, trying to please all people and to be all things to all men. That is not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government; their role should be to protect the Queen's realm across the board, in every detail. The Government have signally failed to do that in relation to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wilshire

That is exactly the point that was at the back of my mind. To start with, I thought that that was what the Opposition were suggesting. The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central then made it clear that that was not his point, so I let matters rest, but I agree with the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). That is why I was so concerned when I heard the phrase.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that I did not write the new schedule and that even I could not sanitise the document. When he went on to express some of the detail, I became pleased that perhaps the Command Paper's detail would be dealt with at some other time so that some of us might not necessarily have to sit through it, but I understand his concern about the phrase, "You need to do something" and I hope that the phrase, "Yes, they must sign up" goes some way to meeting that concern. He explained that he could not support me. As I did not vote with him earlier, I cannot complain about that.

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) simply said that the amendments provided a chance to have a wider debate on some issues and that the debate had increased unease rather than resolved some of it. What I have heard and, perhaps, he has heard means that the Committee's later debates now take on a greater urgency and importance and will have to be fought hard.

As for my new schedule, we are at an early stage in the debate. I made four requests and raised four points. Two have been dealt with satisfactorily, for which I am grateful. Two out of four on the first outing is not bad. My right hon. Friend the Minister will have noticed that 17 more of my amendments are to be debated. If we can keep up that strike rate, perhaps the 12th amendment onwards may no longer be necessary. In that spirit, and having got two out of four, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. William Ross

I beg to move amendment No. 108, in page 1, line 17, leave out 'refrain from inviting' and insert 'not invite'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 107, in page 1, line 18, leave out 'or' and insert 'and shall'.

Mr. Ross

I am afraid that you, have caught me a bit quick, Sir Geoffrey. I did not think that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) was coming to an end quite so quickly, but it has been an interesting debate which will repay careful reading on the morrow before we return to the remainder of the Bill in the afternoon, when some of these matters may be touched on again.

These amendments run in the same vein as the next group of amendments. On the amendment paper, they are headed "Exclusion of delegates (drafting) ". Like the first simple amendments which were discussed, these amendments have a much stronger basis for acceptance than others. All that they do is strengthen the hand of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as they make it plain that he should not invite people who will not say clearly and beyond peradventure that they have given up violence. Ministers should accept the amendments' intention, which is to tighten the position to ensure that the Government will be in a much stronger position whenever they deal with the gunmen, of whatever stripe.

We should never create a position where Sinn Fein-IRA—he Minister confirmed earlier that we are correct to use that designation as they are inextricably linked—could cry foul. Sinn Fein-IRA is good at doing that and at using ambiguous language and vagueness to say, "Oh, we did not know what the Government meant. We thought that they meant what we meant." The Minister should therefore accept these little amendments because they would allow him to say, "Look, it is plain from the drafting of the Bill that I not only should not, but I cannot, accept nominations from a party that has links with people who are deeply involved in violence."

It is essential that everyone should know where he or she stands from the beginning. This is an opportunity for the Government to draw a clear, decisive line in the sand. It may be better to set the line in concrete so that it cannot be so easily forgotten and to stick to it.

The amendments make the position clear beyond peradventure. With the support of the Committee, the Government can easily accept them. The Minister will then find himself in a much stronger position should Sinn Fein, the IRA, the Dublin Government, the Irish Americans or, for heaven's sake, perhaps even the Social Democratic and Labour party say to him, "You need a little flexibility here. We need a little space to manoeuvre." The right hon. Gentleman should deny himself that space for manoeuvre. That would lead to clarification and quicker and clearer decisions whenever he has to confront the difficult decisions that await him.

It would also make the position clear when the right hon. Gentleman talks to other people. He can say to the people of Northern Ireland, "Look, we have made our position rigid on this. We will not accept the people who speak and act for gunmen, murderers and thugs. They cannot and will not be treated as members of a normal political party or as normal politicians."

The problem is that the Governments are asking for the restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994. It is not clear whether these matters will be touched on in debates on future amendments, but I hope that they will. My position, and that, I think, of most of my colleagues, is absolutely plain: we do not believe that the so-called ceasefire of August 1994 is good enough.

On that occasion, the IRA, followed by the Protestant, or loyalist, paramilitaries, simply stopped shooting people and blowing them up. Or at least they stopped shooting members of the opposing political dimension. They stopped shooting, bombing and blowing up members of the security forces; they stopped blowing up buildings and town centres, but they did not stop their other activities. Targeting and fund raising continued. Only last week, funds were increased by £1 million, which will buy a great deal and an enormous amount of expertise in elections and election material if, God willing, it is used for that—if those involved are not caught out and the money returned.

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Thuggery continued too. I am sure that the Secretary of State is well aware that, only a fortnight or three weeks ago, a young man who had had 6 in nails driven through his wrists and ankles was seen on television and in the newspapers. I understand that the nails were driven through his wrists and ankles into a wooden fence and that he was carried into the hospital still fixed to the fence. I see the Ministers nodding, confirming what I had been told. I had hoped that such crucifixions had passed from western society, but it appears that that is not so. I think that Ministers will agree that people who behave in such a way or who have the support of such people should not be admitted into negotiations and should be treated not as a political party but as the thugs and outcasts of society that they are.

Another problem relates to Government representatives. This matter will be touched on later, but perhaps Ministers would like to say something about it now. I have read the papers and discovered that the Government can have five back-ups, but it is not clear who those Government back-ups will be. The Government people are clearly not going to be elected but will be put forward by the Government as their representatives in the negotiations. The Government will therefore have a team of three—presumably, Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office—and five others. Who are these five others going to be? What is intended by having that number? Are these people going to be Members of this House? If not, where will they be drawn from? We shall have to return to such matters.

The Secretary of State is going to have to examine the list of parties. There are a number, but the principal one is Sinn Fein-IRA. The Secretary of State will have to ask himself whether this allegedly political party meets the criteria that have been laid down. We were told earlier that Sinn Fein intended to turn up anyway and cause a scene if it was not allowed in—it has done that before.

When the Secretary of State comes to make that decision, he will have to look at Mr. Adams, Mr. McGuinness, possibly Mr. Kelly and perhaps others who have as yet not appeared to be members of Sinn Fein but are known only to the security forces as the leading murderers and bombers of the IRA. He will be told that they are the negotiators for Sinn Fein. At that point, some other young man might be being nailed to a fence; some young lady, having had her arms and legs smashed, might be being chucked over a hedge; someone accused of being a drug dealer might be lying with a black bag over his head and two bullet holes through it; or a few people, alleged to have misbehaved in Belfast or elsewhere, might be receiving attention with hammers and iron bars, leaving them the thankful patients of what remains of the national health service. The Secretary of State will have to consider all these possibilities when he makes his decision.

Will the Secretary of State tell Sinn Fein the dreadful things that happened? Will he say, for example, that a gang of masked men smashed their way into a house using a sledgehammer to break down the door, that they held the wife and children captive while they wrecked the house and beat up the man, who is now seriously ill in hospital, and that they did something similar the night before and the night before that? The nice, gentle Mr. Adams will be saying, "We're very sorry, it's nothing to do with us. You can't prove it's anything to do with us."

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of the amendment.

Mr. Ross

I am always willing to accept the judgment of the Chair in these matters but, although it might be straining at the limits, I thought what I was saying was relevant to the decision that the Secretary of State will have to make. He will have to decide whether the individuals seeking admission to the talks have any links with the violence perpetrated against citizens of Northern Ireland in the previous 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Is the Secretary of State going to say, "I don't care what you say. My information is that the people involved are members of the Sinn Fein-IRA. These are people with whom you are associated, who are part and parcel of your terrorist, murderous political organisation, and I am not admitting you"? What is the Secretary of State going to do?

The people of Northern Ireland and hon. Members need to understand how the Secretary of State is going to make his decision. I am trying to make it a little easier for him. I am trying to lay down a rigid line behind which he can stand, thus placing the onus not on his judgment or on the reports that he receives from the security forces or those investigating the crimes but on the thugs and murderers. They will have to prove that they were not involved and that the activities about which complaints had been made were carried out by others for other reasons.

Mr. Ancram

I listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman. The amendments relate to the requirement placed on the Secretary of State to invite the nominating representatives of each party to submit elected delegates from among whom a team will be formed to participate in the negotiations. If that requirement were not met, the Secretary of State would have to refrain from issuing such invitations.

We all share the hon. Gentleman's horror at the outrages to which he referred. The requirements set out in subsections (2) and (3) relate to the Command Paper and, indeed, are the basis of the next group of amendments. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will therefore forgive me if I do not deal directly at this stage with the points that he raised; I think that they form a necessary part of our discussions on the next group of amendments.

I have examined the amendments closely. I think that amendment No. 108 is another way of saying what the Government have sought to do in clause 2(3). I do not think that its effect would be any different. Were we to accept his amendment, some further amendments would be required to clarify what the Secretary of State's duty would refer to in those circumstances. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 107 does not alter the effect of the clause either. In fact, I think that it improves the drafting of the clause and makes it clearer, and I am pleased to say that the Government are happy to accept it.

Mr. Ross

I am very grateful to have carried the Minister a millimetre with me. He said that before he could accept amendment No. 108 he would have to table further amendments and that further changes would have to be made, but he has not made clear to the Committee exactly what the effect would be. Perhaps he can go further. I would like a further explanation because I do not think that he went far enough.

Mr. Ancram

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not want a technical explanation, but I am happy to give it to him. Clause 2(2) imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to invite the nomination for negotiating teams, as I said earlier. Clause 2(3) qualifies that duty and therefore talks of the Secretary of State refraining from issuing invitations if certain requirements are not met. I presume that the hon. Gentleman's concern is economy of expression since the change is not material. The phrase "refrain from inviting" was designed as a way in which to clarify the fact that subsection (3) detracts from the duty in subsection (2) without having to use words like "subject to" or others of that kind. Our aim was also economy of expression. On that basis, I would prefer to stay with what we have, since the effect is the same. As I said, I bow to the hon. Gentleman's improvement of amendment No. 107, and I hope that he will accept my gratitude for having drawn it to our attention.

Mr. Ross

I am very grateful to the Minister for his further explanation and I am happy to abide by his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 107, in page 1, line 18, leave out 'or' and insert 'and shall'.—[Mr. William Ross.]

Mr. Peter Robinson

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 19, leave out from the second 'as' to end of line 21 and insert 'that party:—

  1. (a) is attached to a proscribed organisation which is listed in Schedule 2 to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991, and which
    1. (i) has not declared, and is not presently honouring, a permanent and total cessation of violence; and
    2. (ii) has not surrendered its illegal weaponry; and
    3. (iii) has not dismantled its paramilitary structure, and
  2. (b) has not made an unequivocal declaration of its acceptance of the six principles contained in the Report of the International Commission on Decommissioning, which establish a commitment to:—
    1. (i) exclusively peaceful means; and
    2. (ii) abide by the democratic process.'.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: Government amendment No. 27.

Amendment No. 93, in page 1, line 20, leave out 'Command Paper 3232' and insert 'the Report of the Mitchell Commission'. Amendment No. 106, in page 1, line 20, after 'met', insert 'in full'.

Amendment No. 105, in page 1, line 20, leave out from 'met' to the end of line 21 and insert 'by that party, or independent member, and any paramilitary or proscribed organisation with which he has reason to believe that party or individual has links or for whom the party purports to speak.'. Amendment No. 76, in page 1, line 21, after 'party', insert 'or if the party has not

  1. (a) permanently renounced the use of violence for any political or other purpose whatsoever; and
  2. (b) affirmed its total and absolute commitment to the six principles set out in paragraph 20 of the Report of the International Body dated 22nd January 1996.'.
Amendment No. 77, in page 1, line 21, after 'party, ' insert 'and its individual delegates.'.

Amendment No. 85, in page 1, line 21, after 'party', insert— '(3A) The Secretary of State shall have power to expel any delegate who, after he has taken his seat—

  1. (a) resorts to any act of political violence; or
  2. (b) fails to dissociate himself from any act of political violence; or
  3. (c) withdraws his total and absolute commitment to the six principles set out in paragraph 20 of the Report of the International Body dated 22nd January 1996.'.
New clause 2—Statutory Declaration— '. Before taking their seats, each member of the forum and of the negotiating teams shall make a statutory declaration that he:
  1. (a) permanently renounces the use of violence for any political or other purpose whatsoever; and
  2. (b) affirms his total and absolute commitment to the six principles set out in paragraph 20 of the Report of the International Body dated 22nd January 1996.'.

Mr. Robinson

The Committee is slightly stunned by the fact that the Government have conceded an amendment, albeit one that will not exactly change the course of history. I wonder whether that has established a pattern and that, as an example of their good faith, the Government will accept amendment No. 2. On the other hand, their acceptance of the previous amendment could well have been just a blip and the bulldozer is about to proceed, leaving behind it the belching smoke to put as much confusion over the scene as possible. That is the issue at stake. The amendment attempts to provide more precise language for the fudge in the Government's Command Paper, and clarity where all that we have at the present time is vagueness.

Under clause 2(3), the amendment would require the Secretary of State to refrain from inviting nominations from nominating representatives of a party or exclude delegates already nominated from entering into negotiations if and for as long as the party had not declared, and is not presently honouring, a permanent and total cessation of violence", as well as a number of other qualifications. On the declaration and honouring of a permanent and total cessation of violence, the amendment is very much more precise than the vague reference to a reintroduction of the failed ceasefire of August 1994.

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On Second Reading, there was much comment by hon. Members on both sides of the House on how unsatisfactory the 1994 ceasefire had been. Reference was made to the 10 people who were murdered during that ceasefire, the hundreds of very serious beatings that took place, the gangsterism that continued and the many other breaches of the ceasefire that occurred not only in Northern Ireland but even here in Great Britain. It is therefore very clear that hon. Members would not be looking for a reintroduction of that failed and unsatisfactory ceasefire of August 1994 and would want something very much more permanent and secure. To ensure that there is no doubt in the minds of members of the Provisional IRA, the Bill if amended would make it very clear that they simply could not get away with that again.

The second issue that the amendment addresses relates to the surrender of illegal weaponry. I know that the Secretary of State has in the past been touchy about the use of the word "surrender" because he does not like to give the impression that he is asking the IRA to do anything that would be difficult. I do not have any compunction about using language that would require the surrender of the IRA, never mind its weaponry, because, unlike the Secretary of State, I do not believe that it is possible to talk down this terrorist rebellion.

It is not good enough to go along with the decommissioning in parallel, in stages, as an incremental surrender of weapons. The people of Northern Ireland are as much threatened by 95 per cent. of the Provisional IRA's weapons—or, for that matter, by the weapons of loyalist paramilitary organizations—as they would be by 100 per cent. of its weaponry. That is why I believe that it is a necessary condition that all weaponry should be surrendered. Apart from removing the weapons of death from our society, such a surrender of weapons would in itself be a very clear sign—perhaps the clearest—that the paramilitary organisations intended to embrace the democratic process and give up their terrorism.

Paragraph (a)(iii) of the amendment, however, recognises that it is simply not enough to hand over weapons, because organisations could of course rearm. There therefore has to be the dismantling of the terrorist machinery and structure.

As well as those confidence-building issues for the Northern Ireland community, the amendment includes a requirement for an unequivocal declaration of each party's acceptance of the six principles contained in the report of the international commission on decommissioning. Those principles, which have been spelled out on many occasions in the House of Commons, have been rolled up into the requirement to endorse "exclusively peaceful means" and to abide by the democratic process". No one should be in a democratic negotiating process if he cannot sign up to such simple conditions. The House of Commons is not laying down those conditions. They were not concocted by the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister, the Minister, or any hon. Member. They are the fruit of an international commission that considered the matters and what would be the basic requirements, the lowest level of entry, into a negotiating process for any person. The commission of international representatives was headed by an American. That must be an attraction for the Government because the Americans can hardly complain if the Government put down conditions that they have set in the first place. Those who want to take part in the negotiations are required to accept basic democratic principles.

I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept the principles contained in the amendment. I believe that the requirements are unnecessarily vague in the Command Paper, on which the Secretary of State relies. The use of terminology such as would need to make clear and "the need to address", which is even more vague, is quite unsatisfactory. During the negotiating process, delegates will be asked to consider as an agenda item matters such as the six Mitchell principles and decommissioning. They will have brought before them the Command Paper, which is referred to in the Bill, and they will spend days, weeks or even months trying to determine what "to address" the proposals on decommissioning means at that stage.

The truth is that the words will mean whatever the Secretary of State wants them to mean at that moment. Northern Ireland representatives are worried that they would go into a process that was open to the definition of the Secretary of State at some moment in future. I believe that, as he has not encouraged us much by being more precise at the Dispatch Box about what the phrase "to address" the issue of decommissioning means, the House of Commons will want to make the wording of the legislation precise by accepting the amendment. Nobody can then be in any doubt about what has to be done for entry into the negotiating process.

Simply to say that parties would need "to address" the issue leaves it open for the parties to refer to it and to nod in its direction. Even on a daily basis, they might want to "address" issues. However, using that terminology, there is no requirement to come to any decision on the matter, still less to take any action arising from any decision on the matter. Such imprecision will not be acceptable to parties in Northern Ireland and if it persists, it will undoubtedly lead to major problems as the process continues. For all those reasons, there is cause for hon. Members to support the amendment. I trust that the Committee and the Government will be able to do so.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I want to speak briefly to my amendment No. 93, which is being considered with amendment No. 2. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) may be surprised to hear that I agree with at least some of what he has said. It is very important for any party at the negotiating table to subscribe to the six principles laid out in the Mitchell commission's report. That is precisely what the amendment states.

I therefore do not see why there is any need to make a specific reference to Command Paper 3232, as the Bill does more than once. It would help to achieve broader acceptance of the criteria for admission to the negotiations if they were based on the report of an international commission rather than simply on a White Paper issued by the British Government. Indeed, it is arguable that the six principles, as set out in the Mitchell commission's report, are far more comprehensive than paragraph 9, for example, of the White Paper.

It is worth reminding hon. Members of the six principles. The main points are that the parties ought to be committed to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; To the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations; To agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission; To renounce for themselves, and to oppose any effort by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations; To agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree; and, To urge that 'punishment' killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions. There is broad agreement in the House—and, I hope, among the people of Northern Ireland—that those six principles are a fair list of criteria for admission to the talks, without the British Government having to interpret them or add to them in any way. It would therefore be helpful to try to get all parties to the negotiating table as quickly as possible. I hope that, in the immediate aftermath of the elections on 30 May, we manage to get all the parties that are successful in satisfying the electoral criteria to satisfy the Mitchell criteria, so that they can get to the negotiating table and begin the important and, we hope, meaningful negotiations on 10 June.

It would be enough to get all parties publicly to subscribe to the six principles of the Mitchell commission, so it is unnecessary to make any specific reference to Command Paper 3232, as the Bill does at present. I therefore ask the Government to consider amendment No. 93.

Ms Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

I want to comment briefly on amendment No. 93, which has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). Before doing that, I want to put the record straight on a comment made on a point of order just before we began consideration of the Bill, as this is the first chance I have had to do so. I make it clear that I properly declared my interests in the year just ended, and that I will continue to do so. I thank the House for allowing me to put the record straight on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West said that the spirit of amendment No. 93 was to move the negotiations on as speedily as possible—an aim shared. I am sure, by hon. Members of all parties. However, we are slightly concerned about the wording of the amendment, because, in a sense, the ground rules document puts the Mitchell report first on the agenda for talk. The way in which the amendment is worded does two things. First, it undermines some of the value of the ground rules document; secondly, it may in a sense do what my hon. Friend is trying not to do, which is to impose another precondition before talks start. I make that point in a friendly spirit, in the hope of facilitating debate this afternoon.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I endorse amendment No. 2, which was moved so eloquently by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). During earlier discussions on amendment No. 136, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Spelthome (Mr. Wilshire), it was accepted by the Committee in general that it was necessary to have the flexibility of the putative ground rules set out in the Command Paper rather than having them rendered more inflexible by being put in their entirety into legislation.

Within the Command Paper on the ground rules there is a central unequivocal core—a number of principles to which everyone must subscribe before being able to hope to participate in the negotiations. Those are more than just ground rules; they are essential democratic requirements, which throw into broad relief the principles of democracy, and the principles, if such they can be called, of those who wish to achieve political ends by means of violence and terrorism.

It is my view—I hope that the view is shared by the House—that those essential principles have been abstracted and put into words, in the shape of amendment No. 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). From the Command Paper, the hon. Gentleman has abstracted what is absolutely necessary, what is not negotiable and what is a positive requirement for everyone who will pay real, substantial and unequivocal tribute to democratic principles, rather than creating an area of fudge and equivocation through which they may later escape.

6.30 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the first thing necessary after the elections will be a declaration by the leaders of all the parties that they will abide by those principles? Before people are called to the table to negotiate, they must make an affirmation that that is their basis. If they are called to the table and start negotiating on such conditions, we shall be in the middle of a negotiation that can never be fruitful.

Mr. McCartney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it seems to me absolutely necessary and essential that all those who claim to be democrats and who wish to participate in what is said to be a democratic resolution, or a means of resolving our present problems democratically, should abide by those principles.

It is important that those principles, which are the very essence of any basis for negotiations, should not simply be left as one item among a set of items in the Command Paper, but must be set out in clear and unequivocal terms within the body of the Bill, so that there can be no ifs or buts about what people are required to do.

There is an enormous amount of good sense in requiring, before 10 June and after the elections, those persons who have been designated by the Secretary of State as the nominators of delegates for each party participating in the talks to make a clear, unqualified statement, without reservations, on behalf of themselves and of such delegates as they are responsible for appointing, that they accept the principles in clause 2 as it would be amended.

In the absence of such a declaration, the confidence that is said to be such an essential requirement for everyone who intends to participate in the negotiations will not be created. People will go into the negotiations with reservations.

On the basis that the past is the only guide we have to future performance, many people in Northern Ireland believe that, unless certain principles are spelled out in a way that allows no fudge or equivocation, concessions will be made to the men of violence, to get them to the table. At some point, a price is too high to pay for bringing such people within the fold of democratic procedures.

What concerns me is not only the opposition to an amendment of the kind suggested, but, in the general principle of the legislation, the absence of any suggestion about what democrats will do if an agreement is reached without the parties of violence being involved. Is there to be any sanction to prevent those people from saying, "It is all very well you democrats getting together and arriving at an agreement—but we shall continue as heretofore"?

It seems to me that the parties will be creating a situation in which their democratic agreement is the only weapon in the Government's armoury against the possibility of the men of terror simply continuing as before. I appreciate that this may not be the time when the Government can say, "If the democrats arrive at an agreement, and if the men of violence ignore it and, despite being pilloried at the bar of world opinion—for which they have shown scant regard in the past—they continue, we shall do X, Y and Z."

But at least there should be some suggestion that, if those people do not participate, and if there is an agreement that is endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum and approved by the House, yet terror continues, there will be no question of either the Government of the Republic or the United Kingdom Government not adopting certain measures—at this stage, I do not require them to be specified—to ensure that democratic principles and arrangements democratically arrived at will be guaranteed by those two Governments, by whatever means may then be necessary.

Mr. Wilshire

Four of the amendments in the group—amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 85 and new clause 2—stand in my name. I say at the outset that I shall not be easily talked out of pressing at least some of the points in them, so I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will bear that sentiment in mind and allow me at this stage simply to explain what concerns me; then, having had the chance to listen to what he has to say, with the leave of the House I will come back to one or two matters, if necessary.

Amendment No. 76 seeks to add to the requirement that I understand my right hon. and learned Friend will advocate in a Government amendment—the requirement that participation in the negotiations be dependent on agreement with the contents of paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Command Paper. Paragraph 8 requires people to establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods"— that is a step in the right direction—and paragraph 9 requires the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire".

My amendment seeks to return to the issue of a permanent renunciation of all violence, rather than a mere restoration of the ceasefire. It would also require participants to sign up to Mitchell totally and absolutely. The words "total" and "absolute" are taken from the Government document; they are not words that I have invented.

If I understand my right hon. and learned Friend's proposed amendment correctly, I welcome it, but he will not be surprised to hear that I do not believe that it goes far enough. I will not rehearse the reasons for that, which I have given before, but my right hon. Friend the Minister's amendment requires parties to "establish a commitment". Parties could say, "Yes, we would agree to that in an ideal world, but it is not ideal, so we can't act on our commitment just yet." They could say, "Yes, we are committed to it, but as long as the British Government are so intransigent"—to quote Sinn Fein-IRA—"there is nothing we can do about it." Those are both interpretations of establishing a commitment.

In an earlier debate—I do not think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was here—my right hon. Friend the Minister said that Sinn Fein-IRA was a master of interpretation and finding loopholes. To avoid all doubt, in addition to Government amendment No. 27, the phrase "establish a commitment" should be changed to "sign up to the Mitchell six principles and permanently renounce violence". That is what amendment No. 76 seeks to do.

Amendment No. 77 is altogether simpler. My right hon. and learned Friend is a master of legal detail. As a mere layman, I worry that a reference only to parties having to do something offers a loophole through which individual delegates might be able to duck. The amendment, in non-legalistic language, seeks to ensure that not only parties but individual delegates must do what my right hon. and learned Friend wants. If my worry is unnecessary, I should be grateful if he would explain in detail how the reference to parties covers individuals.

Amendment No. 85 raises two points. First, there may be another legal loophole. My right hon. and learned Friend is taking powers to refuse to admit people to talks and to exclude people from taking their seats if, after they have been nominated, they have not done certain things; but nowhere in the Bill does he take powers to expel people if, after they have taken their seats, circumstances change. We need to be reassured that not admitting and excluding also means expelling. If there is any doubt about that. I hope that the Bill will be amended so that the Secretary of State can expel people who do things after they join the negotiations.

Secondly, the amendment gives the grounds on which the Secretary of State should have the power to expel people. They will come as no surprise, and I do not need to labour them. If people in the negotiations resort to violence, out they go. If violence is resumed during the negotiations and people in the negotiating teams refuse to dissociate themselves from it, out they go. If people who have signed up to the Mitchell six principles decide to forget some of them, out they go. That is what should happen, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will tell us that he will have the power to expel people.

New clause 2 takes us back to what my right hon. Friend the Minister said in an earlier debate about people joining the negotiations having to sign up to the Mitchell six before they started. After a while, we got it clear that they would have to sign up to them. That raises the question how delegates to the talks can demonstrate that they have signed up to the Mitchell six. New clause 2 offers one way. I readily accept that there could be dozens of better ways, but this is on the table for consideration.

Mr. Ancram

I do not want a misunderstanding to arise. When I spoke on the earlier amendment, I hoped that I had made it clear that participants would have to sign up for the Mitchell principles, and that the participants would be the parties and the Governments.

6.45 pm
Mr. Wilshire

I hope that the term "parties" includes the individuals in parties who make up the negotiating teams. That is one of the points on which I sought clarification earlier. If I am wrong, no doubt my right hon. Friend will say that it does not mean that individuals have to sign up. If they do not, we have a debate on our hands, because it is essential that they should. Whether it is parties or individuals, new clause 2 seeks to give effect to the assurance that my right hon. Friend gave us earlier.

I propose a statutory declaration. That is not novel; I would love to take the credit, but people in Northern Ireland have to sign up for such things when they are elected as councillors. As Sinn Fein-IRA is happy to sign up after council elections, I assume that even it will not be able to find a way of not signing up on this occasion. The best way to handle agreement to Mitchell is to use the same method as is used for council elections.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the weakness of the present legislation is that individuals must take the matter to court. The Government should take such matters to court. Given the situation in Northern Ireland, it is not fair that individuals have to put themselves in the way of a death squad to clarify the matter through court proceedings. I am sure that he agrees that the onus should be on the Secretary of State and the Government to bring people to book if they break the principles.

Mr. Wilshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Every time I get involved in Northern Ireland debates, I learn something new. I appreciate that I probably should have understood that point before I started to speak. He is absolutely right. If this provision is to be meaningful, there has to be action. Although it is outside the scope of this debate, now that I understand what happens in council elections, he can count on my support on another occasion for trying to have it put right. For the moment, I will explain what my four amendments seek to do.

I do not want to get into the justifications, because I have explained my approach often enough. I want to listen to my right hon. Friend's reply. I hope that he will take all my points on board; if not, with the leave of the House, I should like to come back on some of them.

Mr. William Ross

The two amendments in my name are simple and straightforward. Although they could have appeared as one, I have chosen to present them as two so that one or other, or both, can be inserted in the Bill. They attempt to pin down people with links with violent organisations, clarify the situation and make things easier for the Secretary of State.

Before I deal with that, I want to comment on what hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said about councillors signing up. First, councillors do not sign up in a ceremonial way, but privately. They could later deny that they had signed up. Secondly, when Sinn Fein councillors are elected, it means that they have a considerable number of supporters in the area for which they are elected. In reality, only a person from the same area could challenge them. In that light, it is not surprising that folk are unwilling to put their lives on the line—and that is what they would have to do. That may not be clearly enough understood in the House or elsewhere. IRA-Sinn Fein said at the beginning that it could sign up to that without any problem. If it can do so, it is not worded strongly enough. It does not put IRA-Sinn Fein on the spot and if it does not do so, it is not worth having.

If we are going to have declarations, the Secretary of State must understand that they must have teeth and they must bite. They must be enforceable and there must be some cost if they are not enforced. I hope that the Secretary of State will take on board the concern that has been articulated on the issue in one way or another in the House and on which no action has as yet been taken.

The Secretary of State will see from my amendments that not only do I intend to pin the individuals and parties down, but that Members on the Ulster Unionist Benches want him to carry out the spirit of the legislation, which is important in the perception of the people of Northern Ireland. He has to fulfil their perceptions in relation to this matter. If he is to exclude people whom he has reason to believe are engaged in murderous activities, the Bill must enable him to do so without hesitation. He must be standing on firm ground and his position must be strong.

For that reason, we tabled amendment No. 105. Our amendment No. 106 refers only to meeting the requirements "in full". Amendment No. 105 goes further and states that not only the party but the independent members must be covered. They have not been mentioned in this context. The amendment refers to any paramilitary or proscribed organisation with which he"— the Secretary of State— has reason to believe that party or individual has links or for whom the party purports to speak. If I were writing the amendment today, after the exchanges that have taken place, I would have referred not only to independent members, but to individuals put forward as candidates by their parties. It is important that those individuals sign and agree that they are bound by the strictures of the legislation, and that is not the case.

By "in full", I mean that we cannot accept ambiguous language. We cannot accept the sort of language that has been used in the past—the degree of vagueness that allows that nice bearded fellow to try to convince the people of Northern Ireland, without success I may say, how peacefully intentioned he is. I must tell the Secretary of State that we are trying to ensure that on this occasion those who are involved in violence—those who speak for violence and may not only be the spokesmen for violence, but commit it off their own bat and are directed by it—and who say what has to be said for the purposes of those violent organisations are pinned down in spirit, so that the people of Northern Ireland know that the Government really mean it and that the individuals involved are breaking with their violent pasts. We mean, therefore, that the whole concept and spirit of non-violence and democracy should be involved and should be accepted by all concerned.

In amendment No. 105, 1 am also trying to draw attention to the fact that those parties, or alleged parties as I prefer to describe them, will attempt to cover the links between themselves—as individuals and as parties—and the violent organisations. The earlier exchanges made it perfectly plain to anyone who cares to read the debate that, so far as the Government are concerned, Sinn Fein-IRA is the same body. We are simply looking at two faces of the same body of persons. We are all aware also that that applies not only to Sinn Fein-IRA, but to the other paramilitary organisations and the parties that speak for them.

In this legislation, the Government are creating a structure that will draw those people into negotiations. To a large extent, the Government also believe that it will draw them from the ways of violence, thuggery and fascism that they have followed until now into the ways of peace and democracy. That is a pious hope without any solid foundation and it does not impress people. Folk see through that humbug. For heaven's sake, we have lived with it for 25 years. The individuals are known in every street, district, town and village in which they live. We are not dealing with strangers, or with an unknown quantity, but with the thugs we know. We are dealing with the murderers, gunmen and bombers we know. We are dealing with people who have records and have in many cases served prison sentences for their evil deeds. We know that they have neither deserted them nor in any way turned from their violent past or from the concept of violence succeeding. Far too often, the Government have given them hope that their violence will succeed by making concessions, or what those individuals perceive to be concessions.

I believe that I am being perfectly correct—it is only sensible—to draw the attention of the House to the independent candidates in the amendment. My understanding is that one of those independent candidates is not just some little flower that has sprouted from the ground like a daisy in a field, but is an ex-Sinn Fein chairman of a council in Northern Ireland. If that is so, this is a man who must be pinned down and asked to sign up to the principles of democracy and non-violence. Amendment No. 105 would pin that individual down. We would be telling him that he had to sign up. If an independent member who is standing for election is to be pinned down and will have to sign up, why should individual members whose names are on the list for the parties not have to sign up also? That is not a small point. It is important and the Government must take it on board. If the words in the amendment do not fit the purpose, let them come back on Report with words that meet my point—a point that has been made by others.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether the person to whom he just referred is the man who said that he did not apply to be on the list, but was put on it and is just going to run with it?

Mr. Ross

The individual who uttered those words has not been identified to me, but I am prepared to take my hon. Friend's word for that, if he is accusing that person of not wanting to run. Perhaps he was complaining for the sake of doing so. If the Government are so willing to accept a name, heaven help us. I notice that one amendment would have the effect of adding the Communist party of Ireland to the list. It was a bit slow off the mark, which is not normal for that party. It is a bit rich when the Secretary of State is promoting the Communist party of Ireland.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Is not the hon. Gentleman's argument made all the stronger when the House recognises that the independent about whom he is speaking is the same independent who declared, as chairman of the council, that the council workers were legitimate targets to be killed by the IRA?

Mr. Ross

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman draws to my mind an incident that I had forgotten. He is correct in his assertion. That is what that individual said. I wonder why, when the IRA is so fond of such people, he and that organisation parted company? Perhaps he was too moderate for it. I am not sure, but considering the area from which he came he was probably considered to be a moderate.

In the light of what has been said, I hope that the Secretary of State will meet the point, which has been made with great force. I was also glad to hear what the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said. He understands quite clearly the need to build confidence by removing the weaponry, which is a very important point that must be dealt with, if not at the top of the list, very early on in the negotiations. It would perhaps be much easier to address that issue if the people who enter negotiations are prepared to say beforehand that they will desert violence and that their parties will become democratic and real political parties that are not merely the face of thuggery and murder.

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The Government have also, of course, tabled an amendment, which is the final item that I intend to mention in my remarks—other hon. Members can speak for themselves. The Government's amendment does not go far enough. In paragraph 8 of the Command Paper, which they wish to insert into the Bill, they talk about including parties that abide by the democratic process. That does not go far enough because there is no mention of those parties abiding by democratic decisions—which has been assiduously avoided in all the documents, from start to finish. We talk about a democratic process, but no one ever says, "We're going to abide by democratic decisions", as we do in the House.

At the end of paragraph 9 of the Command Paper, we come to the question of the unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire of August 1994. Hon. Members have already said today that that is simply not sufficient. It was not enough before, and it is even less now. We really need to have something that goes far beyond the IRA saying, "We've stopped murdering folk, but we're going to go on with all the other thuggery."

It is not good enough for the Government to accept the IRA's demand that there will be no forensic examination of any surrendered weapons, because one can foresee a situation in which the IRA will not remember whether a weapon or group of weapons has been used in an attack, holds on to those weapons and surrenders others, says, "We have given up all our weapons", and that is the end of the matter. There must be forensic examination and the weapons must be identified. If the weapons that have been used do not appear, we will know whether the IRA is telling lies.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

I shall make clear the Opposition's attitude to these amendments, which are grouped under the title of "Grounds for Excluding Delegates". In listening to hon. Members who have spoken—such as the hon. Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—they are obviously quite right in wanting to exclude from participation in peace talks people who do not subscribe to democratic values. There is no question about that.

When comparing those hon. Members' proposals with those of the Government, however, I must ask myself which proposals are more likely to bring progress in the peace talks. I have come to the conclusion that, by and large, the Government have it right in setting the framework for peace talks. If one were to go further than the Government have gone, one would bring in so many restrictions and preconditions that progress would not be possible. As the Secretary of State said earlier, we must make our judgments in the context of the mood that would be set in the framework and in the talks.

The Government have appropriately made it quite clear, as have we, that we must embrace confidence-building issues at the start of the talks. Those issues come directly from the international body and the Mitchell report, which requires that the people who take part in the talks unambiguously accept its six principles. Let us make no mistake about it: the six principles will be extremely difficult for Sinn Fein to accept. The principles include the principle of consent, which is something that Sinn Fein was unable to accept in the peace and reconciliation talks in Dublin, and it will not be an easy test for Sinn Fein.

The ceasefire will have to be re-established if Sinn Fein is to get to the talks. If the ceasefire is not re-established, the Secretary of State will, in the words of the Bill, "refrain from inviting" Sinn Fein to the talks. That test must be passed. Another requirement is that, on the first day of the talks, the Mitchell principles on decommissioning are embraced. We believe that that is an adequate test in relation to the talks.

The obvious question for the participants in the forum is what will be its rules of procedure, which will be an issue for it to decide. The forum may or may not decide that, in its rules of procedure, it requires an oath of allegiance from the delegates. That will be for the forum to decide. I do not suggest that that is what should occur, but it is obvious from what has been said in today's debate that members of the forum will take that decision. Whether such an oath is a good idea will be for that body to decide.

Mr. Robert McCartney

When the hon. Gentleman says that the matter is for the forum to decide, does he means that it is a matter for the negotiators to decide?

Mr. Worthington

I meant exactly what I said. The legislation says that the rules of procedure will be for the forum to decide, and that the forum must propose rules of procedure that will then have to be approved by the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be nit-picking about this, delegates to the forum can be dealt with in that manner. I think that the Government basically have it right in setting the conditions for the talks.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

In view of what my hon. Friend is saying about making the rules, does not that make even more important the point that any rules passed by the negotiators or the forum—or whoever it might be—should have the support of majorities representing both communities and not only 75 per cent. of those participating?

Mr. Worthington

My hon. Friend must not tempt me to go down a route that we will deal with in a later schedule. We will tackle that issue then.

We must deal with whether the Government have put in sufficiently firm tests for entry to the talks. We believe that the Secretary of State has done that. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), in her brief reply to the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), said that his amendment appeared to say that the parties had to sign up to the Mitchell principles before they got to the talks, whereas the Command Paper says that that is really the first item on the agenda of the all-party talks. That seems to be exactly the right point at which there should be testing of the parties' resolve and attitude, rather than before that. The Mitchell principles are expressed in simple language, but I am sure that the debate on them will not be dealt with in half an hour or so. All parties will wish to test what is meant by the Mitchell principles. I see the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) laughing at that point. I am sure that if he were at those talks he would certainly wish to test Sinn Fein on what principle 6 meant to it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Secretary of State has assured us that the leaders of the parties will have to make an affirmation and declaration and not indulge in long discussions, qualifications, definitions and parsing of sentences. I shall make that declaration when my party is returned. I shall not be at any table to listen to the shenanigans of would-be murderers who cannot even reject the murder that has been carried out on both sides of the community. I am speaking of loyalist paramilitaries as well as Sinn Fein on this occasion. They should make that declaration. Until that declaration is made, we do not know what will happen in the peace talks.

Mr. Worthington

The point that I was making was that, if a representative of Sinn Fein was at the negotiations and said that Sinn Fein fully accepted Mitchell principles 5 and 6, it would be wholly out of character for the hon. Gentleman to say, "We accept your word on that. We can move on to the next business." I think that that is unlikely to occur. The hon. Gentleman would want to test that.

We hope that the Government will resist the amendments because we believe that they would not facilitate the early movement to all-party talks or help to set the right atmosphere. I believe that the right safeguards are in the Bill and that to go beyond would not be helpful to the conduct of the talks.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I rise to try to clarify some of the suggestions that have just been made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman as I did not have an opportunity to intervene. Are right hon. and hon. Members really aware of what we are legislating for at this stage? It is suggested that people could be elected to a forum and that thereafter that forum could place a bar on its membership. I believe that that will leave us open to continuous legal wrangling. Even on the question of the negotiating bodies, we have watched what has happened in the courts of Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein councillors and others have gone to the courts to obtain a legal interpretation and judgment. The House should legislate clearly rather than leave matters for speculative discussions and innumerable law cases thereafter.

7.15 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I want an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. As he knows, I have mixed views about the Bill and its purpose. I wonder whether at any stage we will get Mr. Gerry Adams and Mr. Martin McGuinness and their ilk to accept the principles of Mitchell and, therefore, whether my right hon. and learned Friend will be prepared to consider on-going negotiations with Sinn Fein and the IRA, as he has carried on negotiations with them for many months. If it is clear that Mr. Adams, Mr. McGuinness and other leading representatives of Sinn Fein who will be elected to take part in the discussions and the examination which the forum will undertake, cannot and will not meet the Mitchell principles, will negotiations take place? Or will my right hon. and learned Friend find a way around that so that he can continue to negotiate with the IRA and Sinn Fein? The commitment of my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to finding a permanent peace and the reintroduction of the IRA ceasefire is not in doubt. The doubt is how far they will go in undermining the principles of the Union, which I support, to find the platform on which negotiations can take place.

In putting that question to my right hon. and learned Friend, am I right in thinking that there will be a point beyond which he will not go? If certain leading representatives who may be part of the forum cannot meet the Mitchell principles or the criteria laid down in clause 2—the grounds for excluding delegates that we are currently discussing—will my right hon. and learned Friend have the courage and the principle to refuse to negotiate with Mr. McGuinness, Mr. Adams and others with whom in the past he has been in positive on-going negotiations? If he cannot give me a proper answer to that question and say that if they cannot meet the criteria he will not negotiate with them, what are we talking about in this debate tonight?

Mr. Robert McCartney

Perhaps the Secretary of State would clarify the basic principles relating to the issue now before the House. Will acceptance of the Mitchell principles and of the necessity to address the issue of decommissioning be a necessary preliminary to allowing a party into the discussions and not a condition for staying in the discussions? I suspect that, instead of taking a firm and principled stand and saying to those gentlemen who espouse violence as a means of obtaining political ends, "You cannot participate and discuss with democrats unless you accept the principles of democracy", the Government will allow them in on the first day. Whether it is five minutes, 10 minutes or a day into the discussions, we will be in discussions. The other participants may be left to do the dirty job of saying, "Out you go or out we go". The Government should make the position unequivocally and abundantly clear and say, "You are not to be here at all unless you give the democratic affirmations that are required." Will the Government answer that question?

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Please forgive me for coming in late and not having listened to the debate that preceded my intervention. It is beholden on Her Majesty's Government unequivocally to clarify their position with regard to the eligibility of delegates to take part in the negotiations. It is all very well to finesse the issues and to seek to obfuscate them. However, I believe that no reasonable democrat could quibble with amendment No. 2—which is in the name of the leader of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), and in the name of the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

It ought to be utterly fundamental that those who are associated with the use of violence for political ends or those who maintain the capability of continuing to pursue violent means in the course of seeking their political objectives are excluded. If we cede this point, the whole process will become fatally flawed because it will give an equivalence of status to those who use horrendous and unprincipled means of wreaking mass murder with those who have eschewed for principled and noble political motives those methods that we so utterly deplore. There has to be an element of trust in the position adopted by Her Majesty's Government. I hope that they will not obfuscate the issues and that they will explain why they exclude amendment No. 2, if they so do.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

This has been a full debate, and rightly so. The amendments cover important matters and they are perceived as going to some important facets of the negotiations. It may help if I put the debate into the context of the Government's policy as it has been explained hitherto. The Government's policy has been to seek to secure all-party negotiations, by which it is meant negotiations including all those parties with a democratic mandate, with the purpose of coming through to a comprehensive settlement based on consent, if that proves to be possible.

It has always been made clear that those parties which shall be entitled to take part as having a democratic mandate shall be those which have declared themselves to be committed to democratic principles and to peaceful methods. For obvious reasons, there can be no place in a democracy for people or parties who are prepared—if they are negotiating as parties—to threaten, or by implication threaten, that they will use violence if they do not get what they want by democratic and peaceful purposes around the table. Putting it another way, people in a democracy cannot be expected to sit down and negotiate with other parties that are not prepared to disavow their willingness to rely on violence in the sense that I have just described it.

That has always been a qualification of the Government's policy of bringing in, if possible, all the parties with a democratic mandate. That has been fleshed out in what is now the Command Paper agreed between the two Governments as offering their best judgment as to what may receive most acceptance in a way with which we are now familiar. Again, it may be worth spelling it out. So far as Sinn Fein is concerned, it is specifically stipulated in the document—in the ninth paragraph—that it shall not be entitled, first of all, to continue with any ministerial contact and, more particularly in the context of what we are discussing, it shall not be entitled to enter into the negotiations unless there has been a restoration by the IRA of the ceasefire of August 1994.

The point has eloquently been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) that that would not be enough. I agree with that, because we know that the ceasefire was broken and that it did not prove to be a permanent or a true cessation of violence. This is where the requirements that are stipulated in the Command Paper become vividly important as to what shall happen when the negotiations begin, because perhaps it is rather more important or significant than the restoration of the ceasefire.

At the beginning of the negotiations, each and every participant—by which it is meant, in the scheme of things, each and every participating party—shall make it clear that they are totally and absolutely committed to the Mitchell principles, which have come to be called the Mitchell six, of non-violence and of democracy. In the interests of time, I am quoting from memory but, I think, accurately. They have already been referred to by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington).

Without taking up the time of the Committee by looking up the principles and reading them extensively, they include a commitment of the parties to abide by the outcome of democratic discussions and, if they dislike the outcome, to commit themselves exclusively to democratic and peaceful ways of changing them. Just as important—and perhaps more immediately important in the context of what has been occupying us for the last hour or so—they include a commitment to the total and verifiable disarmament of the weapons held by paramilitary organisations.

In reality, in relation to Sinn Fein there is the requirement that the ceasefire be restored and that it, together with all other participants—including the two Governments—shall commit itself to those principles. However, it does not end there because the scheme as set out in the Command Paper requires that at the same time—that is, at the beginning of the negotiations—they shall address the proposals made by Mitchell for the decommissioning of weapons by paramilitary organisations. Those proposals comprise, embrace and include a proposal that decommissioning shall take place—this is not the precise language, which can be found in paragraph 34—in parallel with the progress of negotiations. The six detailed proposals appear much later in the report.

Much concern has been expressed about the verb "to address". In my opinion, there is more than one way in which a serious commitment, a serious expression of good faith, of getting into the guts of the proposals can be achieved. Therefore, it seemed a sensible way in which that could be associated with the first, total and absolute requirement to sign up to those clearly expressed principles of non-violence and of democracy.

Mr. Wilshire

I accept that there is more than one way of addressing something, but the end product is what concerns me and, I believe, a number of other people. However this matte ill my right hon. and learned Friend confirm in clear terms that no party and no individual will be allowed to take part in the negotiations until they have publicly signed up—by whatever route they choose to sign up—to every one of the Mitchell six principles?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned in relation to every party participating in the negotiations. That is the language of the scheme to which the two Governments are committed, and to which I have committed our own Government on Second Reading and more than once since. That is certainly the case.

Mr. Wilshire


Sir Patrick Mayhew

Before my hon. Friend rises again, perhaps he will permit me to say that it is central to this scheme that these are elections of parties and that the negotiations shall be participated in by parties, albeit parties which have provided lists of names of people who shall be returned as delegates to the forum from whom there shall be drawn down, as it were, the negotiating teams to take part in the negotiations.

I want to make it perfectly clear—as did my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—that, by reason of the fact that the scheme requires parties to take part, it is of parties that we ask and require, indeed demand, that they make clear a total and absolute commitment to the Mitchell principles. If they are not prepared to do that, they are not entitled to proceed.

7.30 pm
Mr. Trimble

The Secretary of State may have been about to turn his mind to the following point. It is equally important that we have clarification about what happens afterwards. Assuming that commitments are given, those commitments have to be honoured, and they have to be honoured by parties, which demonstrate their honouring of them by their collective and individual actions. It is equally important that we get some clarity about what happens in the event of a prominent member of the party—perhaps its leader or some leading figure—proceeding to act in a way which conflicts or to make statements which conflict with the Mitchell principles. We need to be clear about how paragraph 17 of the ground rules will operate so as to exclude not only the individual, but possibly the party, from further participation.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. For greater clarity, I remind the Committee of paragraph 17: If, during the negotiations, any party demonstrably dishonoured its commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence set out in the report of the International Body by, for example, resorting to force or threatening the use of force to influence the course or the outcome of the negotiations, or failing to oppose the efforts of others to do so, it would no longer be entitled to participate in the negotiations. I shall discuss the illustration that the hon. Gentleman specified in a moment, but first I ask how paragraph 17 would be applied?

The circumstances of the moment would have to be taken account of in the totality. It is very difficult to say, here and now, what the consequence would be in every set of circumstances, but it would plainly be for those participating in the negotiations to form a collective view as to whether a party had, for example, failed to oppose the efforts of others to resort to force or to threaten the use of force.

Mr. Robert McCartney


Sir Patrick Mayhew

I shall just complete this thought. A party acts through its individuals. I am being asked by the hon. Gentleman to consider the example of a leader or a prominent person, as I was also asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). If a party, through its leader, has failed to oppose—to use the language of paragraph 17—the efforts of those who resort to force or threaten the use of force, it is very much a matter for consideration whether the party has not brought itself within the ambit of paragraph 17.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

All parties have mavericks. Why should the party leader be forced to accept responsibility for disciplining someone who has stepped out of line and has simply become involved but is not committed? Why does the Secretary of State not accept responsibility for removing from proceedings the person who has dishonoured the commitment and dishonoured their party?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The negotiations will not be my exclusive property. It will not be open to me to exclude someone once the negotiations have begun. It will be open to the participants, who will be the masters in their own procedure, and it will be for them to decide whether that should be the case. I can make arrangements and I can make dispositions so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, but I cannot determine that for others.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I will give way in a moment.

That leads us into the territory of amendments Nos. 105 and 106, tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), and new clause 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, which propose that these requirements shall be required of individual members of teams.

Mr. William Ross

And the independents.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The independents are there because for the purposes of the Bill they are parties; that is made clear in the drafting of the legislation. The hon. Gentleman makes a face, but we went into this on Second Reading and they are parties for the purpose of the Bill.

I understand the argument that commitments should be required of individuals, but I repeat the point that I made at the outset: the scheme of the Bill is about parties. Parties put themselves up for election, parties are elected and parties participate. I believe that it would not be practicable to require a commitment to the Mitchell principles from individual party delegates as opposed to the parties collectively, and I believe that the requirements that I indicated at the outset of my remarks as being central to the Government's policy are sufficiently fulfilled if that which is required vis-à-vis the Mitchell six is required of the parties.

I have argued, and I believe that it is relevant at this juncture, that if a party, through its leader, expresses, fails to oppose or in other ways perhaps more positively demonstrates dishonouring of its commitment to the principles of democracy—if an individual does that—it is very hard indeed to see how a party can deny that it is the party that is doing it.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Perhaps the Secretary of State will answer this question, which returns to the generalities of principle rather than the particularities with which he has been dealing.

Let us suppose that Sinn Fein-IRA re-institute their ceasefire a week before 30 May, participate in the elections, give an undertaking on the first day of the talks on 10 June and address—whatever that may mean—the Mitchell principles. First, is it possible that the Government would accept such a restoration of the ceasefire as late as a week before 30 May, which would not in itself give any ground for confidence or provide any validation of the authenticity of that ceasefire? Secondly, in those circumstances, would the Government be prepared to accept the undertaking? Thirdly, by addressing the Mitchell principles on decommissioning, is it possible that Sinn Fein-IRA could continue on that basis to be involved in negotiations for months without handing over a single rusty revolver?

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. Before the Secretary of State continues, may I point out that interventions, by their nature, should be short? I shall not be so generous another time.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) invited me to be general rather than particular and then described a very particular scenario. Nevertheless, I will try to deal with it. I acknowledge that some people will say, "You are dodging the issue if you do not give a precise answer now to a hypothetical scenario", but I must face that. Our stand is based on the requirement for an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire. That is the language of the Command Paper: it must be unequivocal. Whether the ceasefire may be reasonably regarded as unequivocal depends on all the circumstances, including prior conduct and how soon before 10 June it is purported to be restored. I did not just think of that: I said the same thing on Second Reading. That is the extent to which I am able to answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's question.

The hon. and learned Gentleman then asked what would occur if parties spin out the negotiations without decommissioning taking place. It depends on how the participants to the negotiations tighten the procedures that will be required to implement the commitment to the Mitchell six and to address the modalities of decommissioning. The leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), addressed that issue on Second Reading when he said: It is essential that, well before 10 June, there is a discussion between the constitutional parties and the two Governments on the exact procedures that we shall follow on 10 June so that we can be sure that there is a commitment, that it is given in a clear way and that we do not find things disappearing in a cloud of obfuscation and Anglo-Irishese".—[Official Report, 18 April 1996; Vol. 275, c. 876.] On that occasion, I said that we have to clarify what will be required, and to do so in good time. I think that I said also—I am quoting from memory and not from Hansard—that the discussions should take place soon. That is the extent to which I can answer the hon. and learned Gentleman. He raises an extremely germane point, which the Government recognise is significant.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I refer the Secretary of State back to his point about discipline. He seemed to imply that those who attend the talks, and not the Government, will discipline people. Mr. Adams has said that he will try to break into the talks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that Mr. Adams tried to break into the last meeting and that police were called to keep him out of the Stormont conference. It is impossible for ordinary parties to the talks to discipline anyone from Sinn Fein-IRA. The Government must give an undertaking that they will deal with the paramilitaries and anyone else who breaches the agreement.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Sinn Fein was not invited to the talks to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Its representatives were therefore not admitted to the premises, which were controlled by the Government. Similarly, if Sinn Fein does not comply with the requirements that I have mentioned, its nominated representatives will not be invited to select teams and they will be excluded from any future talks. If Sinn Fein or anyone else fails to sign up to the Mitchell six, they will not be entitled to participate in the negotiations, as paragraph 17 of the groundwork Command Paper states. I do not think that we need to write into the Bill the way in which our decision will be implemented. Sinn Fein would not be entitled to participate, and that would be that. We would then see what happened. I do not think that I need to be more specific at this stage.

Mr. Wilshire

I hope my right hon. and learned Friend realises that I am trying very hard to support him. He said that in his opinion it is not necessary for individuals as well as parties to sign up to the principles. What would be wrong with requiring individuals to sign? If there is nothing wrong with that, will he concede that point and make it easier for me to support him?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

There is obviously nothing wrong with it morally, but I think that there are some practical difficulties. Individuals may claim that they stand by their undertakings in spite of their party's actions. It is hard to see what such a move would add to the proceedings. Any individuals who were excluded for demonstrably dishonouring the Mitchell six would probably be excluded as a result of an IRA action, so we would have to exclude the whole delegation.

7.45 pm

I understand what is in the mind of my hon. Friend and in the mind of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I recognise that there is intense distaste at the prospect of sitting down at a table with those who have associated themselves—to put it mildly—with abominable crimes. However, we are seeking to bring together people who, however lamentably, by reason of the past have a significant democratic mandate. As a result of that mandate, we are trying to bring those people into the negotiations in recognition of the fact, not that they can veto the process, but that their absence may make it harder for any ultimate solution that may be arrived at to stick. We want to include those parties in the negotiations if we can—provided that they have signed up to all the democratic principles. There is deep distaste for that proposition—which I share as a result of some practical experience—but that is what lies behind the difficult line that we must tread in the circumstances.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that some hon. Members are very concerned about his use of the phrase "to address" in relation to the six Mitchell principles? Those principles are absolutely clear: there is no doubt about their meaning. Why must we "address" those six principles when everyone knows what they mean? If we "address" them as part of the forum exchanges prior to forming negotiating teams, it will protract the discussion and enable people to slip under, over or around those principles as recognised by this place and by most people.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I would deserve my hon. Friend's thunderbolts if we were proposing to address the Mitchell principles, but we are not. I correct my hon. Friend rather gently as I know that the language is not easy to distinguish unless one has lived with it—as has been my lot for some time.

We have said that the principles shall be signed: each and every participant shall make it clear that they are committed totally and absolutely to the Mitchell principles of non-violence and democracy. The phrase "to address" refers to some different proposals made by Mitchell about decommissioning. They are specific proposals about how there shall be a verifiable means and so forth. I endeavoured to explain that, as there is more than one way of achieving them, it is sensible to use the phrase "to address". It is quite different from the principles.

Mr. Winterton

I wish to clarify that point further. I understood that decommissioning was part of the democratic process. If that is so, why do we need to "address" decommissioning? One either signs up to it and honours it, or one does not.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

That is perfectly true when it comes to the principles. As to the proposals, there are several ways of going about it, but I will not repeat myself. I have been reminded that I am going on a bit—it is because I have endeavoured to answer all the questions put to me—so I shall now turn briefly to the amendments.

I would like to be able to help, but I cannot advise the Committee to accept any of the amendments.

I believe that I have sufficiently dealt with amendment No. 2 in the argument that I have given off the cuff rather than by reading the brief, so I hope that I shall not be regarded as discourteous if I do not say more.

Government amendment No. 27 makes it clear that the reference to the Command Paper is to paragraphs 8 and 9. As for amendment No. 93, tabled by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), we believe that the Command Paper—as narrowed down by reference to paragraphs 8 and 9—is a much more serviceable point of reference than the Mitchell report, which is much broader. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept, in the light of what I have said, that it is desirable that we should retain the reference to the Command Paper rather than to Mitchell as his amendment suggests.

I would have liked to accept amendment No. 106, tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry. I have tried hard to discover whether we can prudently include the words "in full", but I have had vehement advice from the draftsmen that that would dangerously, and unnecessarily, open channels for judicial review and challenge and that we would be unwise to solicit such actions. The words would add nothing to the effect, but they would open opportunities for challenge. That is the real reason why I am not able to accept the amendment.

Mr. William Ross

Perhaps the Secretary of State would care to say more about why it would open up such channels. Is he frightened that in some way the Bill is sailing very close to hybridity?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I have asked for this in terms. The words "in full" add nothing to the legal effect, but the courts would have to try to give them meaning and it is anyone's guess what they might conclude. That would materially increase the possibility and danger of challenge to what is at present a simple discretion. I fear that that is what I have to say to the hon. Gentleman on the subject.

The effect of amendment No. 105 would be that the requirements in the Command Paper must be met not only in relation to the party concerned but in relation to any paramilitary party or proscribed organisation with which…that party…has links or for whom that party purports to speak. In the light of what I have said about Sinn Fein and what it will have to do and about signing up to the six Mitchell principles, the hon. Member for East Londonderry can be reassured that clause 2 meets his requirements without the need for the amendment.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne will concede that I have dealt at some length with what he said. He shakes his head—I hope that that means that he thinks that my answer is unsatisfactory rather than that I have not dealt with the point.

I apologise for taking some time. I invite those hon. Members who have tabled the amendments to consider, after full reassurance, whether they might decide not to press the amendments.

Mr. Peter Robinson

It is interesting that the Secretary of State, having closed his ears to the strength of the arguments that have been made by those who have tabled the amendments, suggests that he has in some way answered the points. In fact, he has at best skirted round the arguments and, in most cases, there has been a long breadth between what he argued at the Dispatch Box and the points that were raised in the debate.

During the Secretary of State's mild rebuke and gentle correction of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), he used language that was inaccurate. The Secretary of State said that there was no reference to a need to address the principles because the words "need to address" referred to the proposals for decommissioning.

That was absolutely right, but he then said that the principles indicated that the participants would make the proposals clear. That is not what the Command Paper says. If the Command Paper had said that, it would have been of some assistance to us. The Command Paper says that the participants would need to make their commitment to the principles clear. We have already gone into the difference between "would need to" and "shall" in the Mitchell principles. The reference to "need to address" has not, in my view, been satisfactorily dealt with. The very fact that the Secretary of State is now envisaging the possibility of legal recourse being taken by some frustrated participants suggests that the words of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), in the course of his short remarks, may be accurate.

It is because of the necessity for the Committee to ensure precision in order to avoid difficulties later in the courts that I believe the amendments should be accepted. There is little doubt that some people out there will take great pleasure in having recourse to the courts on these issues. The less precise the language used in the Bill, the more likely it is that there could be an unfavourable outcome to such a challenge. For that reason, among many others, we have used precise language in amendment No. 2.

As hon. Members would probably expect me to say, I believe that amendment No. 2 is the most comprehensive of the amendments in this group. It would set a standard for those who will take part in negotiations. Therefore, the question is not, as the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) suggested, one of ascertaining which route is most likely to lead to a successful outcome to negotiations. Amendment No. 2 would set down the standard that would be required of those who will participate in negotiations. As the Secretary of State and others have clearly recognised, it is simply not acceptable for people to walk through the doors into negotiations who have, the day before, been involved in violence, or to expect people to accept their word. People could bomb London or elsewhere one day and the next day be part of a negotiating process that everyone hopes will lead to a peaceful outcome. I must tell the official Opposition that the question is not about the most likely route to a favourable result; it is about setting, at the outset, the standards that will be required of those who are to participate.

The Government have fudged the issue. I take the point made by the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). Clearly, in politics, there is a time for vagueness and a time for clarity. In the Command Paper, there are issues on which perhaps it is more sensible to be vague at this stage than to be clear, but it is abundantly clear that this issue, at a later stage, will be a matter of contention. If hon. Members believe that to be the case, we should be as precise as it is possible to be so that nobody is left in any doubt about the criteria that have to be met.

We must all have had experience in recent years of the Government giving a wink and nod to suggest that the wording of a document can be loosened at a later stage. The Government have suggested that they might find a circuitous route to get round the language laid down in certain documents. When people come to the point, they have found that the route is closed off and they then feel that they have been betrayed, just as many parties in Northern Ireland, of the fringe variety, feel that they have been betrayed by the Government, because those parties are now being required to go beyond what they were asked to do during discussions with the Government about ceasefire arrangements.

I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise that there is value in precise wording for clause 2. I am rather disappointed, though not surprised, that the Government are reverting to type and simply steamrollering the Bill through the House. I trust that the Secretary of State will realise that it is not satisfactory that people who will be present at the negotiations can be put under threat by the participation in those negotiations of people who are effectively saying that, if their demands are not met, they will start up their campaign again. The fact that the Secretary of State is prepared to fudge the issue leads many of us to fear that, somewhere down the line, he will view getting Sinn Fein to the talks, come what may, as his prime motive.

We fear that, if that means that the Secretary of State must use weaker wording than he used earlier, he will ultimately be prepared to do so. We fear it particularly when we note that there is nothing about talking to the Provisional IRA that would turn the stomach of the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State. As was revealed over the weekend, for a long period while they were telling us that such dialogue would turn their stomachs, they were engaged in dialogue with Sinn Fein.

My amendment is supported by the leaders of the Ulster Unionist party and my party, and we intend to push it to a Division because we consider it essential for the views of the House to be tested. I am sorry that the Secretary of State has not been prepared to make the smallest gesture towards those of us who have tabled the amendments.

8 pm

Mr. Trimble

These are probably the most important amendments that we shall discuss this evening. They try to spell out clearly what should happen in the negotiations, and to clarify the inclusion or exclusion of certain parties. In effect, the Secretary of State has argued against such precision, and we are left with the fairly general statements—featuring a certain amount of ambiguity—in the Command Paper known as the ground rules.

Following the route suggested by the Secretary of State would require us to have a degree of confidence in the way in which the Government interpret, and will apply, the statements in the ground rules. I waited until the Secretary of State had spoken before expressing my views, but I regret to say that, having heard what he had to say about two important points, I am somewhat disappointed.

The Secretary of State quoted from my Second Reading speech. I was glad that he did, because it is essential for us to be clear about what will happen when the talks open, but I would have preferred that to be clarified publicly. All parties in the House, and elsewhere, that may be contemplating involvement in the negotiations must know exactly what will happen. None of us wishes to engage in any form of dialogue with those—not just Sinn Fein—who have committed appalling atrocities in the past until we know of the existence of a clear commitment: the total and absolute commitment referred to by the Secretary of State and in the ground rules.

Just as important, however, is the question of what happens thereafter. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) pointed out that I had signed the amendment that he tabled originally; I am rather sorry that I did not also sign amendment No. 85, tabled by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), which also makes clear what will happen afterwards. The Secretary of State disappointed us gravely by saying that it would be for the parties collectively to act, thus giving a clear indication that he intends to duck his obligations.

The Secretary of State has responsibilities in this regard. It would be much better if the criteria for the exclusion of parties that act contrary to the Mitchell principles on peace and democracy, or fail to implement those principles, were written into the Bill as they are written into paragraphs 8 and 9 of the ground rules.

At the opening of the talks we are likely to be issued with a postdated cheque, which we fully expect to be dishonoured. The procedures that will apply when it has been dishonoured should be made just as clear. The Government have accepted the principle of narrowing the reference to the communiqué in paragraphs 8 and 9 of Cm 3232, but those paragraphs relate to the original invitation. The Government should accept a similar obligation with regard to paragraph 17: it should be included as well. The Government should have a duty to exclude delegates, which would require the rewriting of clause 2(3). It is not good enough for the Government to duck those obligations by transferring them to the parties collectively; they should not shirk their responsibilities.

Mr. Wilshire

When I explained the purpose of the four amendments that I had tabled, I said that I wanted to listen to what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and then decide whether any further comment was necessary.

As the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has just said, our present debate lies at the heart of the Bill—at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. As I have repeatedly said, the matters that we are discussing include what, for me, are two key issues: the clear distinction between asking people to sign something and asking them to address a matter, and the difference between saying that something is permanent and simply reinstating it.

Every time we debate these matters, Ministers give the same response. They say, "Yes, you are right; this will happen. There is nothing to worry about; all will be well. We have given you assurances before." Hansard is littered with such responses. In all the time during which I have raised such issues, however, I have received not a single reply that would change anything, or give effect to those reassurances. Not one amendment has been considered acceptable tonight, although I stressed that, although a measure might not appear necessary, there was nothing wrong with introducing it if that would reassure some of us.

As a result, I am sorry to say that I feel forced to do something that I have never done before, and vote against my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do not see this as a party-political issue pure and simple; indeed, the existence of a consensus suggests that more than party politics is involved. I hope I have made it clear over the months that, for me at least—and doubtless for others—the issues that we are discussing raise matters of personal conscience. What is happening flies in the face of my fundamental commitment to democracy.

I simply cannot bring myself to accept that others should be expected to sit down with evil killers who have not even signed up to anything before the start of the talks, and with people who have broken a temporary truce when it suited their purpose. For me those matters go deep, and they are matters of conscience. I have said time and again that I am unhappy, but there comes a point when it is necessary to show that, as well as to say it.

I would prefer to vote for my amendment, No. 76, but I understand only too clearly that, with an all-party consensus, any amendment will be defeated. I have serious reservations about amendment No. 2, which has been moved by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) but, rather than divide the Committee twice unnecessarily, despite those reservations, I shall vote for it. I hope that the Committee will note that I would have preferred to vote for a different amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 11, Noes 233.

Division No. 102] [8.09 pm
Beggs, Roy Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Trimble, David
McCartney, Robert Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)
Maginnis, Ken Wilshire, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Tellers for the Ayes:
Paisley, The Reverend Ian Mr. William Ross and
Smyth, The Reverend Martin Mr. Peter Robinson.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Carrington, Matthew
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Carttiss, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Cash, William
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Chapman, Sir Sydney
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Chidgey, David
Ashby, David Chisholm, Malcolm
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Coffey, Ann
Bames, Harry Congdon, David
Bates, Michael Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Bellingham, Henry Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bendall, Vivian Corbyn, Jeremy
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cran, James
Benton, Joe Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Beresford, Sir Paul Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bermingham, Gerald Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Blunkett, David Dover, Den
Boateng, Paul Dowd, Jim
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Duncan, Alan
Booth, Hartley Duncan Smith, Iain
Boswell, Tim Dunn, Bob
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dykes, Hugh
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Eagle, Ms Angela
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bright, Sir Graham Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Faber, David
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Fabricant, Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Fishbum, Dudley
Budgen, Nicholas Fisher, Mark
Burns, Simon Foster, Don (Bath)
Burt, Alistair Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Butler, Peter Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Canavan, Dennis French, Douglas
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Fry, Sir Peter
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Gardiner, Sir George
Gill, Christopher Mates, Michael
Gillan, Cheryl Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Merchant, Piers
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Miller, Andrew
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mills, Iain
Gorst, Sir John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Moss, Malcolm
Hague, Rt Hon William Mowlam, Marjorie
Hain, Peter Murphy, Paul
Hampson, Dr Keith Neubert, Sir Michael
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hannam, Sir John Nicholls, Patrick
Hargreaves, Andrew Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Harris, David Norris, Steve
Harvey, Nick Oppenheim, Phillip
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Ottaway, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Paice, James
Hawksley, Warren Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heald, Oliver Pawsey, James
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hendron, Dr Joe Pickles, Eric
Hendry, Charles Pope, Greg
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Porter, David (Waveney)
Hoon, Geoffrey Powell, William (Corby)
Horam, John Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Rendel, David
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Richards, Rod
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Riddick, Graham
Hume, John Robathan, Andrew
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hunter, Andrew Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hutton, John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Illsley, Eric Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Ingram, Adam Sackville, Tom
Jack, Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Jenkin, Bernard Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Jenkins, Brian (SE Staffs) Skinner, Dennis
Jessel, Toby Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Spink, Dr Robert
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Spring, Richard
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sproat, Iain
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
King, Rt Hon Tom Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Kirkhope, Timothy Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Kirkwood, Archy Stern, Michael
Knapman, Roger Stott, Roger
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Sweeney, Walter
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sykes, John
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Legg, Barry Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Temple-Morris, Peter
Lidington, David Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Timms, Stephen
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Lord, Michael Trend, Michael
Luff, Peter Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
McGrady, Eddie Walden, George
MacKay, Andrew Waller, Gary
Mackinlay, Andrew Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Watts, John
McLoughlin, Patrick Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Whitney, Ray
Madden, Max Whittingdale, John
Marlow, Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Wilkinson, John Worthington, Tony
Willetts, David Yeo, Tim
Winterton, Mrs Ann(Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas(Macc'fld) Tellers for the Noes:
Wolfson, Mark Mr. Gary Streeter and
Wood, Timothy Mr. Derek Conway.

Amendment accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 27, in page 1, line 20, after first 'in', insert 'paragraphs 8 and 9 of'.—[Sir Patrick Mayhew.]

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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