HC Deb 02 December 1998 vol 321 cc871-3
5. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

What discussions she has held with leaders of political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly about a linkage between decommissioning of terrorist weapons and eligibility for participation in the Northern Ireland Executive. [61202]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

Such proposals have been made by more than one of the parties. There is no direct linkage in the agreement, and the Government cannot rewrite it. We are there to help implement it.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that the maintenance of an armoury of weapons at a party's disposal constitutes an implicit threat to the population and a potential source of blackmail to the political and democratic process? In that context, may I remind the right hon. Lady of the personal pledge delivered by the Prime Minister to the University of Ulster, Coleraine, on 20 May? He said: Those who use or threaten violence shall be excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland. Does that pledge still hold?

Marjorie Mowlam

The maintenance of an armoury, whether by republicans or loyalists, is clearly counterproductive.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

What are you going to do about it?

Marjorie Mowlam

I shall try to implement the Good Friday agreement because that is the best way to achieve decommissioning. If the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has an alternative, I look forward to hearing it. On his second point, which questioned the Prime Minister's pledge on 20 May, I say to him, as I said in earlier answers, that the pledge has been honoured. It is in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and we are following it to the word.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I am surprised that the House is so tolerant of the equivocation and evasion that we have heard from the Government today. I wonder why, when the House has found its conscience about General Pinochet and the abuse of human rights, the Secretary of State will not give a clear definition of how people with paramilitary links such as McGuinness, Adams and other members of Sinn Fein can get into government. Will she reassure the House that she is not contemplating contravening the Stormont agreement by saying that we must implement every element of it before there is any decommissioning? That would not be acceptable.

Marjorie Mowlam

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not for me to make that final decision. I have said that we are trying to implement all the parts together. No one part must be a precondition for another. The issue is one of confidence, and there must be confidence building on both sides. Implementing the agreement is the best way to achieve that.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the Government have made it abundantly clear through the words of the Prime Minister that Sinn Fein members will not qualify to take seats in the government of Northern Ireland unless and until they have given up violence for good"?—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] The right hon. Gentleman included progress on decommissioning in that. Is that a matter of principle for the Government, or are they prepared to compromise outside the spirit of the Belfast agreement to cobble together a deal?

Marjorie Mowlam

The hon. Gentleman did not read out the whole quotation, which referred specifically to the Executive and progress on decommissioning. I am not saying, as was suggested earlier, that decommissioning should wait until last. We want it to happen as soon as possible and it is an essential part of the agreement. It is not a precondition but an obligation. In answer to earlier questions, I made it clear that the only way to achieve decommissioning is to implement the agreement. All parts must be implemented and we all have to work very hard to achieve that.

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