HC Deb 09 December 1998 vol 322 cc329-80
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.59 pm
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

I beg to move,

That this House supports the Belfast Agreement and reasserts that the Agreement has to be implemented in all its parts; believes that several things must happen in parallel in order to build confidence, whether it be decommissioning or the release of prisoners; notes that the only organisations that can qualify to take seats in the government of Northern Ireland and can expect the early release of prisoners are those that have given up violence for good and that decommissioning is part of that; notes that since July over 200 terrorist prisoners have been released early while decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives has yet to begin; and believes that there should be no further early releases of prisoners, and no place in the Northern Ireland Executive for their representatives in the Assembly, until there has been substantial and verifiable decommissioning. It is worth saying that, seven months after the signing of the historic Belfast agreement on Good Friday, it is right and proper that the House of Commons should review the progress of the agreement. This is an excellent opportunity to do so. It is clear that there is grave concern in our constituencies and in the Province about the lack of decommissioning of illegally held weapons and the fact that so many terrorist prisoners have been released early. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Opposition, on the first Supply day of the new Session, have tabled this motion.

To pre-empt any intervention by Government Back Benchers, I wish to say that we fully recognise the huge advantages gained from a bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland wherever possible. By and large, we benefited from that bipartisan policy when we were in government, but noted that, on occasions—especially each year when we sought to renew the emergency provisions legislation—we failed to gain the support of the Opposition.

Wherever possible, we support the Government in the bipartisan policy, but I have always maintained clearly to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that I cannot give them a blank cheque, and nor should I. It is our constitutional duty as the Opposition to speak out when we believe that the Government are doing something wrong, and to question further when answers are not satisfactory. That we have done, will do again this afternoon, and will continue to do.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I rise to intervene with some diffidence, given the right hon. Gentleman's comments about interventions by Government Back Benchers. Does he agree with the assessment by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force are maintaining a complete ceasefire, or does he hold a different view?

Mr. MacKay

I will answer that point directly. The Secretary of State has the benefit of the best security advice available, and it is that those organisations are maintaining a ceasefire. I accept that, but later in my remarks I shall make the point that renunciation of violence must include—as the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have said continually—the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives.

The hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in these affairs, and I am sure that he agrees that, although large-scale violence is not taking place, intimidation and so-called punishment beatings are still occurring in the Province. That is very serious, and the Secretary of State has said that, if any evidence could be passed to her, the security services and especially the Royal Ulster Constabulary would pursue it. The hon. Gentleman cannot comfortably accept that there is a total ceasefire in all forms when such intimidation takes place on certain estates on both sides of the sectarian divide.

My party supports the Belfast agreement, because it is the extension of a process that was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and Lord Mayhew during the previous Administration. It has been continued by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister, and has led to the signing of the agreement. Without repeating what I said at the time of the agreement, I believe that it represents the best chance and opportunity for lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

The right hon. Gentleman says that he supports the Belfast agreement, but the motion tries to create a link between prisoners and decommissioning that does not exist in the agreement. Is not the effect of the motion to undermine the agreement, even if that is not his intention?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman should take a bit more note of what the Secretary of State has said from the Dispatch Box. In answer to questions from me during Northern Ireland questions in October, she rightly said that prisoner release and decommissioning should go in parallel. In answer to questions from Opposition Members on 2 December, she said: Let me make our position absolutely clear: decommissioning is an integral part of the agreement; it is not a precondition but an obligation."—[Official Report, 2 December 1998; Vol. 321, c. 867.] She is absolutely right. I support her in that respect. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had done the same.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The issue of linkage is fundamental, as I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree. Was not one of the Mitchell principles that no one was allowed to take part in the peace discussions unless they had forsworn violence for good? Yet we know that, since the Good Friday agreement and beforehand, many paramilitary groups, particularly the IRA, have been involved in many beatings and, in the case of the IRA, the murder of a man called Andrew Kearney in Belfast. Is not that the linkage? It has been linkage throughout, yet some now try to deny it.

Mr. MacKay

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I underline that point by quoting the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box in response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. On 6 May, he said: Again, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is essential that organisations that want to benefit from the early release of prisoners should give up violence. Decommissioning is part of that, of course".—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] I entirely agree with the Prime Minister. The renunciation of violence itself is not enough without decommissioning.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

It is right for the right hon. Gentleman to seek a debate on an issue on which there is some debate to be had, but does he intend to put the matter to the vote? It seems unreasonable to put on public record a division of this sort—something which we did not do in opposition. That could be harmful to the agreement. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think seriously about that. I would be unhappy if I had to vote on the matter.

Mr. MacKay

I can answer the hon. Gentleman clearly. We had expected, hoped and assumed that our motion would not need a vote, but would be passed by the House. As we now see an amendment on the Order Paper, I suspect, Madam Speaker, that you might well be calling a Division at about 7 o'clock.

The hon. Gentleman said that we should not have votes on matters concerning Northern Ireland. I wish that he and his colleagues had taken that advice when, year in and year out, they ratted on emergency provisions and prevention of terrorism legislation, when bombs were going off here on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, murdering innocent people. At best they abstained, and at worst they voted against such legislation. They were soft on terrorism. I am glad that they have now changed. I had not intended to raise this. They have chosen to do so. The facts and the votes recorded in Hansard speak for themselves.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The right hon. Gentleman seems to want it both ways on bipartisanship, and now he seems to have an a la carte approach to the Belfast agreement. He knows perfectly well that the whole House, and certainly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, are completely committed to the whole agreement, including decommissioning, so why on earth does he even contemplate voting against the Government on the issue, knowing what message that will convey on the island of Ireland?

Mr. MacKay

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, let me say that the simple truth is that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have always been right to say that the Belfast agreement cannot be cherry-picked. I am not cherry-picking; the paramilitaries are cherry-picking. We are backing the Belfast agreement, and anyone who does so should support our motion. As I deploy my arguments, the hon. Gentleman will see why.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay

This will be the last time for a while. No one else will be called to speak in the debate if we continue like this.

Mr. Thomas

How many paramilitary weapons did the right hon. Gentleman's party manage to get decommissioned? How many Opposition Supply day debates did we initiate on that subject? Does he not recognise that proper implementation of the Good Friday agreement—not attempting to rewrite it, as his party is seeking to do—is the best way to secure decommissioning?

Mr. MacKay

That has confirmed my worst fears. That pathetic and irrelevant intervention is not fit for a response.

At the time of the Belfast agreement, we were deeply uncomfortable about the early release of terrorist prisoners, as were the great majority of decent, law-abiding people in this country.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay

I shall proceed a little.

With the greatest reluctance, we swallowed our concerns, because we realised that early releases were part of a wider package. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister said at the time, it was not to be cherry-picked, and had to be seen in the round—complete.

It is absolutely clear under the Good Friday agreement that paramilitaries whose political associates had signed the agreement would decommission all their illegally held arms and explosives over two years, and, at the same time, the Government—starting when the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 became law in July—would release terrorist prisoners early, providing that the Secretary of State was satisfied that they were not likely to return to violence or associate with other paramilitaries.

What has happened? The Government—I do not quibble with this, as the Secretary of State knows—have released a number of terrorist prisoners early, to show good faith and that they were keeping their part of the Belfast agreement bargain. Seven months on, not one gun or ounce of Semtex has been handed in, but more than 200 terrorist prisoners have been released early. To say the least, that is hugely disproportionate.

Any reasonable person looking at the scene in Northern Ireland would say that, seven months on—more than a quarter of the way through the two-year decommissioning period—some weapons should have been handed in. After a mere three months of the two-year period for early release of terrorist prisoners, half have already been released.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether his speech will give more aid and comfort to those who voted for the agreement or to those who voted against?

Mr. MacKay

The best aid and comfort that I can give to those who voted yes—I campaigned for a yes vote, along with the Secretary of State—is to make sure that the Prime Minister's pledges at the Balmoral agricultural show, and subsequently at the university of Ulster at Coleraine, are met. Having returned from the Province within the past few hours, I can tell the hon. Lady that a large number of people who voted yes feel deeply disillusioned and let down by the Prime Minister, because they believe that pledges that he gave in the referendum campaign and from the Dispatch Box to the House of Commons have not yet been met.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that members of the public, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom, are appalled and cannot understand the logic of continuing to release terrorists without the decommissioning of arms? They are bemused and puzzled. Many of my constituents have written to me about this issue, and are delighted that my right hon. Friend has had the courage to face reality.

Mr. MacKay

I agree with my hon. Friend that any reasonable person would be perplexed, confused and disappointed that, seven months on, no guns or Semtex have been handed in, yet well over 200 terrorist prisoners have been released early. That is grossly disproportionate, and it calls into question whether any decommissioning will take place.

Mr. White

Is it not true that, when the previous ceasefire took place, the Conservative Government released more prisoners? Prisoners were released when violent acts were still being carried out, whereas now there is no violence.

Mr. MacKay

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. Labour Members, including the hon. Gentleman, have a very limited memory of what happened in the previous Parliament. We increased remission to 50 per cent. to bring Northern Ireland law into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. That did not involve decommissioning, and it did not entail the two-thirds remission that is now in prospect. Under the agreement, every terrorist prisoner will be released within two years. The two situations are not comparable, so I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misled the House.

It is worth while quoting the then Secretary of State during the Second Reading debate on 30 October 1995. He said: The House will be reassured to know, however, that many of those who have been sentenced for the most heinous offences would under the provisions of the Bill remain in prison until at least the end of the first decade in the next century."—[Official Report, 30 October 1995; Vol. 265, c. 26.] That is not happening now. I do not quibble with that, but to make such comparisons is ill advised and a mistake.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no comparison can be made, because many of the most serious criminals being released under the current scheme have been charged with murder and sentenced to life, whereas, under the previous arrangements, there was no remission for those sentenced to life imprisonment?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. and learned Gentleman, with his considerable professional experience, is entirely right, and I concur with everything he says.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)


Mr. MacKay

I shall allow one last intervention, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) represents the Liberal Democrats on these matters.

Mr. Öpik

Perhaps I can get the right hon. Gentleman back to his speech. Will he clarify an important point? He said that many people in Northern Ireland were turning away from their decision to support the agreement. Will he confirm unequivocally that the Conservative party remains absolutely committed to the spirit and to the letter of the Good Friday agreement?

Mr. MacKay

I am happy to confirm that, as I said at the beginning of my speech. The best way to reassure the doubters who voted yes but are now uncertain and disillusioned is to ensure that decommissioning takes place, and that the proposal in our motion is implemented. An increased number of people would then support the agreement, instead of being disillusioned.

It would be remiss of me not to touch briefly on two other points. First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who this week collects his Nobel prize in Norway. He is absolutely right to say that he cannot, should not and will not appoint Sinn Fein Ministers to the Executive until substantial and verifiable decommissioning takes place.

I hope that hon. Members throughout the House will agree that it is not possible to be a Minister in any part of the United Kingdom—in any free and democratic society—and run a Department and a country, or a province, while maintaining a fully armed private army. That is incompatible with democracy, and should be denounced from the House of Commons. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann will have our full support in not appointing Sinn Fein members as Ministers until there is substantial and verifiable decommissioning.

My second point is not entirely connected with the motion, so I hope that you will bear with me, Madam Speaker. There has been further discussion in Downing street today about north-south bodies, and we naturally welcome that. I believe that resolution of the discussions on north-south bodies may well take some time, but that is not necessarily a problem: tough, hard bargaining is going on, and for my part I wish it to be left to the parties in Northern Ireland to resolve the problems. I believe that they will resolve those problems satisfactorily, but I am not so certain that the decommissioning issue will be resolved.

It will not be a lack of resolution on north-south bodies and the setting up of institutions that brings down the process. I expect that to be achieved, albeit, perhaps, over longer than the next few days. What I fear is that, without decommissioning of weapons illegally held by the paramilitaries, not only will confidence in the process evaporate, but an Executive will not be set up, because—rightly, as I have said—the right hon. Member for Upper Bann will be unable to appoint Ministers whom, under the legislation, he would otherwise appoint from Sinn Fein.

In the last week, the Prime Minister has replied in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I want to draw attention to a specific aspect of that letter. I ask the Under-Secretary of State, if he has the letter to hand, to look at the first paragraph on page 2, in which the Prime Minister writes—this is consistent, as it largely reiterates what the Secretary of State told me on the Floor of the House last week—

The best prospect of the completion of decommissioning within the two year period is by implementing the Agreement, and thereby removing all excuses from those in possession of arms. I take issue with the Prime Minister on that. It rings alarm bells. It leads me to believe that every single terrorist prisoner will be released without one ounce of Semtex or one gun being handed in. Let me put this to the House. If we—heaven forbid—were Gerry Adams, or one of the Loyalist paramilitary leaders, and if all our prisoners were being released by the Government, what incentive would we have to hand in any guns or explosives?

The last three sentences of our motion probably constitute the only part with which the Secretary of State disagrees. I hope so, because the rest consists entirely of direct quotations from the Prime Minister. The words to be implemented in all its parts are a quotation from what the Prime Minister said at Balmoral on 14 May. On 20 April, from the Dispatch Box, he used the words: several things must happen in parallel in order to build confidence, whether it be decommissioning … the release of prisoners".— [Official Report, 20 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 484.] On 6 May, from the Dispatch Box, he said:

The only organisations that can qualify to take seats in the government of Northern Ireland and can expect the early release of prisoners are those that have given up violence for good … Decommissioning is part of that".—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] I hope that, in the interests of consistency, Labour Members will support the motion. I presume that—because it is factually correct—the Secretary of State will also support our observation that since July over 200 terrorist prisoners have been released early while decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives has yet to begin". That is factually correct. It is irrefutable.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay

No. I am concluding my speech now.

Where the disagreement comes in is clear from the Prime Minister's response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We say: there should be no further early releases of prisoners, and no place in the Northern Ireland Executive for their representatives in the Assembly, until there has been substantial and verifiable decommissioning. By voting against and tabling the amendment, the Government must disagree with that.

Unless the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister draw a line in the sand and say, "No further terrorist prisoners will be released until"—

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay

No. I have just said that I am concluding my speech.

If the Secretary of State says that no further terrorist prisoners will be released until there is substantial and verifiable decommissioning, she has a real chance of getting decommissioning. If she does not do that, she will not.

If the Secretary of State is going to say to me, "I will be in breach of the agreement," I respectfully say to her that I do not believe so. She has been more than generous—as she knows, in my eyes, somewhat too generous—by already releasing more than 200 terrorist prisoners in the first three months of the two-year period in which she is entitled to do so. Their representatives have decommissioned nowt during the first seven months, so she is entitled to halt prisoner release until decommissioning takes place.

I and my colleagues sincerely believe that the only way in which to obtain decommissioning from all the paramilitaries on both sides of the sectarian divide is to halt prisoner release. We also believe passionately that, unless there is substantial, real and viable decommissioning, the process that the Secretary of State and I support, which we started and which she has sustained, will be ruined. That would be the hugest possible pity for the people of Northern Ireland, so I call on the House to support our motion.

4.27 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

recognises that the Good Friday Agreement represents an historic opportunity to bring agreed government and political stability to Northern Ireland; acknowledges the progress which has been made by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland parties in reaching and implementing the Agreement; and believes the only way forward for the people of Northern Ireland to find lasting peace is for the Governments and the parties to move urgently to implement every aspect of the Agreement in full. I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and I guarantee that, given the chance, I will answer every point that he has raised. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity that has been provided by the Opposition to discuss how the Good Friday agreement is being implemented.

Like many of my colleagues—in view of the questions that they have asked—I believe that the agreement that was endorsed by the people of Northern Ireland and of the south represents the most significant development in Northern Ireland politics for a generation. By implementing it in full, there is a unique opportunity to build a peaceful future for all the people of Northern Ireland. I want to return later to what I think is the basic contradiction in the argument of the right hon. Member for Bracknell. He accepts the security advice that there is an unequivocal ceasefire involving three groups. That is the basis of the agreement. He cannot have it both ways by arguing that that ceasefire is not being maintained, but I will develop that argument later in response to his points.

I welcome, too, the Opposition's support, in particular the help of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the right hon. Member for Bracknell and several of their lordships during the yes campaign. I also acknowledge the important role, which the right hon. Member for Bracknell mentioned, that was played by previous Governments in making the agreement possible.

The previous Government took risks and they were right to do so. Their role was acknowledged clearly by Senator Mitchell during last week's Dimbleby lecture when he said: The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 traces its lineage to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 … Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were brilliant in bringing the process to conclusion, but they would be the first to acknowledge that it was their predecessors who set the stage. They set the stage in terms of the agreement and, particularly, of two aspects of the agreement which the right hon. Member for Bracknell mentioned—decommissioning and prisoner releases—and to which the Opposition motion refers. They made those difficult choices, which started the process of bringing us to where we are today.

The level of remission available to terrorist prisoners in Northern Ireland has changed alongside developments in the peace process in the past decade. Remission was reduced in 1989 following a particularly horrific year, in which 91 people were killed in Northern Ireland. In 1995, the situation improved. Although punishment beatings and killings continued and no progress was made on decommissioning, the Government of the day judged that the ceasefires were being maintained and that sufficient progress had been made to enable rates of remission to be increased to one half. The Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Act 1995 resulted in the accelerated release of about 240 prisoners and continued despite the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire. Therefore, the issue of the release of prisoners was not new when the parties agreed the provisions in the Good Friday agreement and remission rates were increased to two thirds in 1998.

The desire to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons has also been a part of that process for many years. Again, its history can be traced to previous Governments; first, to the insistence that actual decommissioning would be a pre-condition for talks between loyalists and republicans to take place; then, to the abandonment of that pre-condition following the report of the international body in 1996. Again, the previous Government took a risk—one that paved the way for the opening of talks in June that year—and we fully supported their action.

Decommissioning is an essential part of the Good Friday agreement. Under the agreement—in paragraph 3 on page 20—all participants

reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years … in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement". As a Government, our attitude to decommissioning is crystal clear. We want it to take place and we want it to start now.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is no comparison between those previous remissions—under which there was no remission for the most dangerous prisoners, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment—and the present scheme, which allowed the release of the murderers of the two corporals?

Marjorie Mowlam

First, as I outlined in my introduction, what is happening is a progression from what happened with previous schemes under previous Governments. Secondly, the nature of the prisoner releases is a result of the Good Friday agreement and of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which followed from it, and laid down clear regulations and rules. For example, people should be allowed out on licence for a specific period and, if they broke the licence, they would go back to prison. There are both similarities and differences.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Does the right hon. Lady agree that, at the present rate of progress, there is a serious risk that all, or at least most, of the relevant prisoners will be released before a single weapon is decommissioned? Does that accord with her construction of the agreement? If it does not, when will she draw a line and say that no more prisoners are to be released until there has been substantial decommissioning?

Marjorie Mowlam

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has implied, both those issues are dimensions of the present agreement. It has always been the case that progress has to be made in all parts of the agreement for it to work. If progress is not made on all dimensions together, the agreement will not work. It is important for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to remember that much work has been done on different dimensions of the agreement in the intervening months since it was drawn up and put to a referendum and when the first meeting of the Assembly was held, in July. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that he considers that there has been too much progress on one dimension and not enough on another. Of course it is uneven; anybody can see that, but it is important to remember that it takes time to implement the agreement. In the Dimbleby speech last week, Senator Mitchell said that reaching the agreement was difficult and that implementing it is also difficult. It is now important to make progress on all fronts and that will take time.

Of course progress is faster on some aspects than on others. We have a shadow Executive, but not an Executive; we have dialogue on cross-border implementation bodies, but we do not have cross-border bodies. Progress is being made on some matters faster than on others. In my view, it is too early to call a halt on any aspect. The agreement has no preconditions and states that all aspects of it have to move in parallel. Attempts have been made to find a way forward for 12 weeks—since the summer recess. Opposition Members are too quick to attempt to call a halt to one dimension of the agreement.

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. Of course I understand what she is saying to the House and that she is anxious to retain the Opposition's support for her policy. She is much more likely to retain that support if she tells the House at what point she is prepared to draw a line. The present position suggests to us that all or at least most prisoners could be released without a single weapon being decommissioned. We want to know at what stage, how soon and in what circumstances will she say that no more prisoners are to be released until there has been substantial decommissioning.

Marjorie Mowlam

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I approach the problem in different ways. He wants to know when I will draw a line and stop a particular aspect of the agreement. I want to see what right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House can do to make sure that we make progress on all dimensions so that the problem that he describes no longer exists.

Several hon. Members


Marjorie Mowlam

I shall make one more point to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and then I shall make a little more progress before taking further interventions.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to halting the accelerated release of prisoners. He well knows that that can be done under the agreement if the ceasefire is no longer unequivocal or is no longer maintained. That is the basis in the agreement and in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 of calling a halt to the process.

At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Member for Bracknell made it clear that he accepts from the security forces, the police and from the advice to me that the ceasefire is intact. Therefore, there is no basis in the agreement for me to act when the evidence—not allegations—that I receive is that the ceasefire is valid.

Mr. MacKay

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Marjorie Mowlam

I shall make a little more progress first before giving way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. MacKay

Will the right hon. Lady give way on that point?

Marjorie Mowlam

I shall give way when I have made some progress.

We made it clear at the outset that decommissioning is an obligation, not an option, under the agreement. We and the Irish Government are doing all that we can to hold the parties and the respective paramilitary organisations to that obligation. Both Governments are clear that the parties signed up to complete the decommissioning of all arms within two years—it is important that Opposition Members take note of that.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)


Mr. MacKay


Marjorie Mowlam

I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Bracknell first.

Mr. MacKay

The Secretary of State rightly quoted my response to the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) when I said that I accepted the security advice to her that there was a ceasefire, but does she accept that a ceasefire is not the same as the total renunciation of violence? Let me quote again what the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box: Again, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is essential that organisations that want to benefit from the early release of prisoners should give up violence. Decommissioning is part of that, of course"—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] Her response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has given us the clear impression, I am afraid, that every prisoner could be released without any decommissioning. That would be unacceptable and I cannot believe that she meant to give that impression. I give her this opportunity to correct the record.

Marjorie Mowlam

The right hon. Gentleman must understand that peace is a process: it is not obtained by a switch that one can flip. While the process is being developed, some dimensions move quicker than others. Therefore, at the moment, we have unevenness between different dimensions. That is the nature of the difficulty of implementing an agreement, just as it was difficult to reach that agreement. I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that what is important is that every comment that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have made has been in line with the Good Friday agreement and its implementation.

Mr. Robathan

The right hon. Lady says that developments must be in line with the agreement. The Prime Minister said on 14 May that one of the factors to be taken into account in clarifying whether the terms and spirit of the agreement had been met was that the ceasefires are indeed complete and unequivocal; an end to … beatings". Is the Secretary of State satisfied that there has been an end to beatings or are there so-called punishment beatings week in and week out on the streets of west Belfast? Has the Chief Constable suggested to her or her ministerial colleagues that he has firm evidence that may or may not stand up in court that the beatings are the responsibility of paramilitary groups such as Direct Action Against Drugs, the Provisional IRA and therefore, as she has said on many occasions, Sinn Fein?

Marjorie Mowlam

I remember being at the Opposition Dispatch Box at Christmas 1995 when nine murders had happened as a result of the activities of Direct Action Against Drugs. The Minister standing at the Government Dispatch Box said that the ceasefire was being maintained. At a difficult time, I supported the Government of the day because they needed such support when they were trying to hold the process together. It is sad that at a difficult time we do not get the same support from the Opposition.

Punishment beatings are horrific and barbaric acts that ought not to happen. The Government are doing all that we can politically to stop them and the police are doing all that they can in terms of security. However, I must have firm evidence, not allegations, before I can act. That is not what I have received in the vast majority of cases; therefore, I have to make a judgment. In some cases, there is, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, a tenuous relationship between such acts and certain organisations—it would not stand up in court, but there is one. I have to make a judgment in the round as to whether that is sufficient to change the decision that I have made on an organisation in relation to despecifying prisoners, or whatever.

As the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) will remember, in the debate on the Loyalist Volunteer Force on 17 November, the Opposition spokesman talked about the difficulties. He said that punishment beatings continued, but that in relation to the LVF there was a balanced judgment to be made. The Opposition made it in favour of the LVF. Such a judgment should be left to some of us who have more information than Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Blaby accepts that that information is important.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As all that has been done since the agreement was signed has been in accordance with that agreement, including the release of prisoners, and as we all want decommissioning, what sort of message does my right hon. Friend believe that the motion might send to Belfast at a time of delicate negotiations and a delicate political position? Would it not be unfortunate if the House was seen to be divided when the Opposition say that they are in agreement with what was negotiated on Good Friday?

Marjorie Mowlam

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks. The question is not merely one of decommissioning, but of making sure that the agreement, which says that there should be an unequivocal ceasefire and that that should be the basis for prisoner releases—

Mr. Paterson

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Marjorie Mowlam

Let me finish. The question is whether an unequivocal ceasefire is in place. The basis of the points made by Conservative Members is that an unequivocal ceasefire is not being maintained, yet the right hon. Member for Bracknell said that evidence provided to us suggesting that the ceasefire is being maintained is correct, so the Conservative Members' argument lacks foundation. What is important is that Opposition Members realise that the agreement has not broken down: there is still momentum and people are still talking. The best way to get the different dimensions implemented is to make sure that progress continues to be made. That is what I intend to do now.

No previous Government have succeeded in achieving the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. No previous Government have done as much as the current Government have to try to secure the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons. The best way to ensure that all paramilitary weapons are decommissioned is to implement the Good Friday agreement in full. We are now at a crucial stage in Northern Ireland. The work continues on trying to reach an agreement on the ground about the nature of cross-border implementation bodies and departmental structures within Northern Ireland. A deal should be close. I wish that it had been reached earlier, but it requires confidence and leadership on all sides.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Does the Secretary of State accept that I think that her judgment is broadly right when she says that, in Northern Ireland, decisions have to be taken on the balance? The issues are not cut and dried: they were not when the Conservatives were in government and I was one of the people who had to make those decisions occasionally. I accept that no radical change has occurred simply because the party in government has changed. Therefore, I broadly accept what she says.

Does the right hon. Lady also accept that those of us who understand the issues in Northern Ireland understand that there would have been no Good Friday agreement without prisoner release? She knows, because I have told her, that I deplore that and find it distasteful, as do many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, but that was the reality. In the same way, it is a reality that there would have been no agreement without the commitment to decommission.

I understand the Secretary of State's point of view: she in a difficult, tense and messy situation and I shall not criticise her for trying to implement the agreement. However, does she accept that the reason fundamental concern is arising is that historically there has never been any decommissioning in Northern Ireland, or in Ireland, at the end of periods of violence? Does she accept that, sooner or later, to help to defuse that growing anxiety, the Government will have to be a little more forthcoming about what will be the issues surrounding decommissioning or the lack of decommissioning; and the danger that that might pose to the agreement?

Marjorie Mowlam

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and agree with him that the Good Friday agreement is a package, made up of several different dimensions, and that the agreement would not have been reached without all those dimensions being included. Prisoner release, accelerated release and decommissioning are essential elements. Like every other hon. Member, I should like decommissioning to start now, because that would help to bring much-needed confidence to the process and so enable both sides to continue to make progress on the implementation of the agreement. I agree with the general thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's comments.

We have to look at the nature of the agreement, which says that the different dimensions are linked and that the package must be moved as a whole. In reality, that is the only practicable way in which the agreement can be implemented. Decommissioning would be a positive step, so I want it to happen sooner rather than later. However, at present, we need to make sure that progress is being made on other dimensions of the agreement. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning is up and running, General de Chastelain is in place and modalities are being discussed with representatives of the different parties linked to paramilitary groups. There has at least been some progress—although not very much, as Opposition Members have said.

We do not yet have an Executive: we have a shadow Executive. We need a north-south ministerial council and we are yet to appoint cross-border implementation bodies and agree the Northern Ireland Departments. We have a long way to go on several dimensions. However, I ask Opposition Members: for goodness sake, give the people of Northern Ireland and their political leaders who have shown such determination and courage up till now the time and space to find a way forward. That is what they need. Nobody wants to see any dimension of the agreement fail.

Mr. Paterson


Marjorie Mowlam

Let me make some more progress.

We are at a crucial stage and other aspects of the agreement must be implemented. I hope that some of the recriminations that we are hearing both here and outside this place will fade and we will have a chance to reach agreement on some points before Christmas. We must do more to build confidence in the agreement.

Mr. Paterson

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. She mentioned the people of Northern Ireland. What confidence can they have in the agreement when there have been 400 violent attacks by terrorists in the period to October? That trend is accelerating, with 157 such attacks in November. How can the people of Northern Ireland remain confident in the situation when the Secretary of State and Labour Back Benchers are absolutely determined to turn a blind eye to that violence?

Marjorie Mowlam

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman checks his statistics before he starts citing round numbers. It is not clear whether there were more of such incidents under his Government or ours—it depends how one collates the statistics. I agree that the punishment beatings, shootings and murders are totally unacceptable. We and the people of Northern Ireland are trying, through the Good Friday agreement, to avoid a return to violence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the views of the people of Northern Ireland. Many of those to whom I speak-1 am in Northern Ireland for most of the week—say that they find the situation difficult. The victims, particularly, have had a tough time in the past few months as prisoners have been released. Many families suffer terribly when they see those people exiting prison. I have no doubt that some find the situation difficult. However, many of those families say, "I don't like what you're doing; it's not easy. But if it means that other families will not have to suffer as we have suffered, it will be worth it."

The Good Friday agreement is not perfect and the peace is not perfect—hon. Members' contributions today have shown that it is far from perfect. However, I believe that progress is being made. It is only a short time since the agreement was signed and we need space to accommodate it. We will not see change overnight: it will take days, weeks and months for people to accommodate the different dimensions of the agreement. Yes, it is taking time, but we should not say, "It's getting worse, so let's go backwards". If the Good Friday agreement breaks down, people across the divide will see it as a return to the bad times and to violence. We must do all that we can to ensure that the Good Friday agreement has a chance of success.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)


Marjorie Mowlam

I am sorry, I will not give way. I must make progress.

Let us be clear about the Opposition motion's reference to prisoners, to which many Conservative Members have alluded. The agreement is clear on that point. It says: Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit"— from early releases.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell said that he accepted our security advice as correct, but the Opposition are asking the Government to declare that the ceasefires by the IRA, the UVF and the UDA are not being maintained.

Mr. MacKay

I repeat what the Prime Minister said, which I still accept. He said on the Floor of the House and in the referendum campaign that the renunciation of violence—which, as the right hon. Lady will agree, is linked to the early release of prisoners—must include decommissioning. As there is no sight or sign of decommissioning after seven months, the renunciation of violence that is the basis of her releasing prisoners is not in place.

Marjorie Mowlam

The renunciation of violence is central, but the right hon. Gentleman fails to understand that, as the Prime Minister said, one decides whether there is a fundamental renunciation of violence on the basis of whether the ceasefire is maintained and there is an unequivocal commitment to it. I have said to him on several occasions that, if there is evidence to the contrary, I will seriously review it, but there is none. That means that the organisations are maintaining their ceasefire and prisoner release is in order.

Mr. Paterson

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Marjorie Mowlam

No, I have been generous to the hon. Gentleman and others. I must make progress.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Marjorie Mowlam

No, I have just said that I must make progress.

Let me return to the point about firm evidenced, I have said that the police, the Army and security advisers have argued that the ceasefires continue in the case of the IRA, UVF and UDA.

As I said, I accept that the peace is not perfect. I acknowledge that punishment beatings have continued. They are reprehensible and must end. They continued during the time of my predecessor in the previous Government. We supported him in his efforts because there are no easy answers. Politically, we are doing all that we can, and the police are doing all that they can in security terms, to bring to justice those who are responsible for punishment beatings.

The peace is not without risks. No peace ever is, but the benefits of peace are there for all to see. I am in no doubt that, if I were to announce today that the ceasefires are at an end, despite the fact that the advice that we are receiving proves that they are not, I would be risking the whole Good Friday agreement and its benefits. That is what the Opposition are asking us to do.

No one who has any recent experience of Northern Ireland could fail to notice the impact that peace is having. I saw for myself on Saturday what peace means for the people of Belfast. For the first time in 30 years, people were out doing their Christmas shopping and preparing and hoping for a festive season free from violence. The peace process is slow and will not happen overnight. We must give people time to come to terms with all the changes that are happening in their lives.

There are, of course, still many problems and hurdles to overcome. As Senator Mitchell and others have said, the implementation of the agreement is as difficult as reaching the agreement itself. There have been difficulties over the nature of cross-border implementation bodies, the number and structure of Northern Ireland Departments, the formation of the Executive and decommissioning. We have to resolve all those problems. Alongside all the other aspects of the agreement, the commitments made under the agreement must be honoured in full. To abandon our commitments under the agreement at this stage and not act in line with the agreement, which is what the Opposition are tonight asking us to do, would be to finish any prospect of holding other parties to theirs. It would be very short sighted.

The questions that the Opposition have been asking are valid ones. I know that because, as I said, I am asked them by people in Northern Ireland. If they are valid for the people there, they are doubly valid for those who have suffered, yet many people say that for peace we must work together to find a way forward. That, I believe, is what many of the leaders in the talks are now doing. The questions are valid, but the answers that the Opposition are offering are not.

We cannot rewrite the agreement. It is not ours to rewrite. We cannot introduce direct linkages between one aspect of the agreement and another which were not agreed by the parties themselves; nor can we introduce new preconditions, which is what the Opposition are asking us to do. This is my judgment. It is not an easy judgment, but it is a judgment that I make based on the best information available to me from the police and the security services in Northern Ireland.

The significance of the Good Friday agreement has been recognised not only at home but abroad. Yesterday, in Washington, the achievements of the party leaders who so courageously negotiated the agreement were recognised by the National Democratic Institute. Tomorrow, in Oslo, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), representing the two main communities, will receive the Nobel peace prize—a fitting honour for them and the people whom they represent.

Our most important focus now must be on Northern Ireland and on helping those in Northern Ireland who are trying to implement the agreement—the best way to get decommissioning. No other interest should come before that. People should look to their own conscience to ensure that they are doing all they can in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland and are keeping those interests closest to their heart. With that in mind, I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion and to support the Government amendment.

5.2 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

Anyone who has held the position currently filled by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland feels a certain diffidence in contributing to a debate of this kind, and I also accept that it is always the wrong time and always difficult to second-guess the Ministers and the Prime Minister who are responsible for this extremely difficult process in which they are engaged.

The Secretary of State is always a little more correct than my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) in saying that the process did not start with the Downing Street declaration. I do not claim the pride of authorship, as it started before me. Of course, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which did not have universal support in the House, was the start of a process and a change in attitude which has led to the situation that we hope will lead to a permanent peace. It is part of a very long process which has effectively been bipartisan all the way.

I have to say to Labour Members, some of whom are new, that I did not appreciate some of the interventions that we heard today. The fact that the process was bipartisan never meant that the House was gagged or unable to express its opinion. There are issues over which the House would not have won respect had it failed to make it clear that there were alternative points of view. The former Opposition—now the Government—did not hesitate to make their points or to vote against me and my colleagues when they felt that they needed to do so.

This is not a very helpful aside, but it seems that some Labour Back Benchers—I do not know whether they are organised by active Parliamentary Private Secretaries—feel that there must be no criticism of the Government and that they must interrupt and intervene on Opposition spokesmen. It seems that certain Labour Back Benchers are almost trying to provoke the end of bipartisanship.

The House should debate the motion, which deals with a serious issue. The motion will not be carried—it will not change Government policy—but I hope that no one is suggesting that it is improper for the House even to express an opinion and for us even to vote on the matter. Labour Members did not hesitate to vote and express their views on this matter when they were in opposition. We accepted that they had the right to do so. I hope that we put the arguments, the motion and the vote in the right context.

As somebody who was a personal recipient of bipartisanship, which I appreciated, I accepted that it did not make one free of criticism. The Secretary of State can look after herself; she does not need her Back Benchers to try to intervene in such an unfortunate way on my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, our Front-Bench spokesman, in order to undermine him.

We have, without question, a common objective. Too many of us have devoted too much of our lives, including some pretty unpleasant moments, trying to get where we are today to throw the process aside lightly. That does not mean that there are not occasions on which we have worries and concerns and want to exercise our rights as Members of Parliament—Back-Bench or Front-Bench—and express our views to the Government. It is the duty of the Opposition to do so.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) pointed out well, it has not surprised anybody, including that Secretary of State, that decommissioning is the most difficult of issues. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will remember that the British-Irish interparliamentary body happened to be meeting on the day of the Downing Street declaration. As we were gathered round, there was a great expression of good will when the news came that Albert Reynolds and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) had signed the declaration. That afternoon, there was a debate, in what should have been a great spirit of good will. I was one of those who said that decommissioning was very important and that, if we are to have a peace process in Northern Ireland, the removal of weapons is a very important part of it.

As the hon. Member for Walsall, North may remember, reaction from those representing the Irish side of the British-Irish parliamentary body was one of absolute horror. They saw that statement as a traditional British attempt to undermine the process. Not one of them believed that decommissioning could be achieved and that the Downing Street declaration could possibly be moving in that direction. One realised then the gap of history between the British and Irish sides on that issue. It was apparent from day one of the signing of the Downing Street declaration.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, on the day after the meeting to which he referred, the Foreign Affairs Minister in the Dail told Sinn Fein, "This does not mean that you can get into the democratic process, take a look around and then retire if it does not suit you. It means giving up, handing in your weapons now"? That point was made from day one.

Mr. King

I do not remember that particular reference, although I recall similar ones.

We knew as we entered the process—we hope that the Good Friday agreement is the culmination of the achievement of the Downing Street declaration—that it would involve tough decisions on both sides. I have my own memories, all too sad and bitter. I was Secretary of State when the appalling murder of the corporals took place, before the country's eyes, on television. Yet I know that my memories are nothing compared with the suffering and pain and the price that the families and friends of those who died have had to pay.

All this means a change of attitude. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said, it means that things that are not acceptable in a normal democratic society—such as people who are guilty of crimes not having to pay the full penalty for them—must be done. We accept, with a heavy heart, that a change of attitude, concession and some compromise are necessary for the greater good of the greatest number of people—for peace in Northern Ireland. Concessions are needed from both sides. The worry is that they are not coming—at least, that impression has been given.

I am not in the loop of whatever negotiations may be taking place between the Government, Sinn Fein representatives and others, but the perception is that, while the Government's statements are admirable—I have no quarrel with any statement that the Government have made, from the statement made by the Prime Minister on 20 April 1998, up to and including that made by the Secretary of State on 2 December 1998—nothing has happened.

As the Secretary of State rightly said, there has been a bit of a legalistic argument. If Martin McGuinness appears on television, a phrase that seems to echo regularly is a question about a precondition. The right hon. Lady has answered that by saying that it is not a precondition but an obligation. That is what she said—yet that obligation does not seem to be being performed.

Perhaps decommissioning is difficult to organise. Perhaps it is a very complicated process. Perhaps meetings must be held, such as the meeting of the Army council which I believe was held yesterday. The real worry is that to which my right hon. Friend the Member for North—West Cambridgeshire alluded. Decommissioning is not something that will come through in the fulness of time. The real worry is that it will not come through at all. It is long established in Irish tradition that, as "when the pike is in the thatch", one does not surrender one' s weapons, and of course one does not use the word "surrender"—that word would be unacceptable.

I understand the problems that the Government have, and I do not expect the Government to support the Opposition motion. However, given all the difficulties, I believe that the House, and Conservative Members at least, should speak up for the very many people in Northern Ireland who say, "It is not working. What will happen? Will people be allowed to keep all these weapons? Will they be allowed to keep heavy machine guns? Will they be allowed to keep sniper rifles? Will they be allowed to keep rocket launchers?" The Secretary of State knows that that is true, because she must be hearing such questions morning, noon and night.

I do not worry so much about Semtex, because everyone knows that a good load of fertiliser, properly adapted, probably gives people all the threat that they need. Do we say, at the end of the list, that personal protection weapons remain as some residual defence against the fear of a loyalist mob and are the last element in the trust-building structure that will need to be built? There must be some approach that starts to give people confidence that there is no truth in the long-standing traditional belief that no decommissioning will ever happen.

There must be movement—the hard choice that comes from leadership. That will have to come from the republican movement. Otherwise, I see, to my greatest sadness, and tragically for the people of Northern Ireland, the real danger that the agreement will not succeed. It deserves to succeed, and yet, in the end, if certain people are not prepared to make any movement whatever, the position of the Secretary of State in statements that she has made, and the position of the Prime Minister in statements that he has made, will become impossible.

I am not only talking to the Secretary of State. I hope that the debate and the motion will be not unhelpful to the Government in discussions that they may be having with what I would describe as other people, in communicating the truth that, in the end, they will be unable to sustain their position; that they will be unable to be more and more understanding of other people's difficulties and problems; and that there will come a moment when they will be unable to accept what is put to them. That moment will come because the thin, small voice that comes from the Opposition side of the Chamber today will grow and grow, and more and more reasonable-minded people will say, "This simply is not acceptable".

I say that not in an attempt to second-guess, because I understand something of the significant difficulties on this issue, but to say, through the Secretary of State to another audience, that that audience must understand that, unless there is some movement over the issue, the lack of movement threatens to destroy the whole process. That would be a tragedy for the whole United Kingdom and most particularly for all the people in the island of Ireland, whom the Secretary of State and so many others have worked so hard to help.

5.14 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

It was with something of a heavy heart that I learned that tonight's debate was taking place, at the Opposition's behest, at a time of the greatest possible sensitivity in the inter-party negotiations taking place in Belfast. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) emphasised that the debate was not a breach of the bipartisan approach, but the tenor of the remark indicated to me that there was an element of cherry-picking—to use that hackneyed phrase—in the motion on decommissioning and prisoners.

There are many aspects to the agreement. There is the political aspect, in terms of the inter-party negotiations and structures, north and south, east and west, and within Northern Ireland, and there are three other major elements: decommissioning, prisoner release and the reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The latter three aspects are so sensitive that the parties—I think wisely—said, "The matters should be handed to independent commissions, the first on decommissioning, the second on the consequences of prisoner release, and the third, to the Patten commission on the RUC."

I say as an important aside that it is not insignificant that the third issue was omitted from the Opposition motion. The motion does not seem to embody the concern, often expressed by Conservative Members, that all matters should move forward together. That is an indication—almost a flagging up of the danger that Conservative Members are moving into partisanship in terms of the negotiation that we are very delicately entered into. The right hon. Member for Bracknell, the Conservative party and all hon. Members know that the decommissioning issue has been addressed not as an element of the agreement but as a precondition to advancement and implementation of the agreement.

Mr. MacKay

Let me clarify one thing. We have not mentioned policing because the commission on policing, chaired by Chris Patten, is in full process. As far as I can tell, it is making good progress. Public meetings are being held around the Province, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere, so there is no need for concern. That is proceeding; surely that is right and proper.

To suggest that debating Northern Ireland matters in the House, at any time, affects the process of the negotiation is to try to gag the House, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to do that. I do not believe that raising matters of decommissioning has an impact on the important matters that he and his colleagues are continuing to discuss in connection with north-south bodies. I mentioned those discussions, and I said that I did not wish to become directly involved in them, because I thought that it was best for the political parties that are negotiating to be involved in them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that.

Mr. McGrady

The right hon. Gentleman, in an intervention, has said that those matters are progressing. So is the matter of decommissioning, in the international commission. I understand that the membership has been completed, and that various other aspects of the modalities are being processed. I am not privy to the internal workings of that commission, nor is it appropriate that I should be, because this matter, on which I have no expertise, is so delicate that it has been put in the hands of an international commission.

Decommissioning and prisoner release were scheduled in terms of the totality of the agreement. I understand that the decommissioning aspect of the agreement takes us up to May 2000. Let me say, initially and clearly, that I, my party and the people whom we represent want decommissioning as much as—perhaps more than—anyone else, because, unfortunately, statistics show that my community suffered more than any other from the use of weapons and explosives, and that it would be in my interests, not just that weapons and explosives be withdrawn from use, but that the paraphernalia and the structure of paramilitarism be eradicated from our society, once and for all, in the years ahead. I say "in the years ahead" because our community in Northern Ireland has suffered 30 years of intense violence, division and hatreds.

On Second Reading of the Bill that became the Northern Ireland Act 1998 I said as strongly as I possibly could that the House could not and should not expect that, after 30 years, we could turn a key and switch off all violent activities. Unfortunately, we are seeing those words come to pass. Old debts are being settled. Mafia-type violence is being perpetrated in our society.

If other hon. Members lived in the society in which I live, they would see a tremendous difference between where we were last year and where we are this year. That difference has already been referred to, and it does not apply only to yuletide. The difference can be seen every day and every night. We can go down our streets with our families and children and not be concerned about the bomb or bullet flying and destroying us. We can have peace of mind in social recreation. It is an enormous advance on where we were. That comes under the heading of peace, and peace has many pillars to support it. One such pillar is the political process. My party and I believe that we cannot have stable and permanent peace without a political structure, arrangement and agreement to support and back it and to ensure that the gun will never return to Irish politics.

There is some cynicism about decommissioning. An old person in my constituency who had some experience of the past once said to me that if I were to put a gun on the table and no one touched it, it would be there in 1,000 years' time without anyone suffering the consequences of it. There is more in that statement than meets the eye. It is the use of weapons and explosives against people and property that is the problem, not that they rot in a cave or a dug-out or whatever. I hope that there will be actual and physical decommissioning. As I have also said, I hope that there will be disbandment of the paramilitary structures, which will allow that to take place.

Unless we handle the peace process in the right way, the gun will not be taken out of Irish politics. If we fail and handle the process wrongly, the political process will be destroyed, and with it, the peace for which we have all striven. So much depends on the political process, and that is why all the matters that relate to the agreement must move forward. They will not move in unison but they have to move forward gradually. We must implement the agreement which was reached last Wednesday night into Thursday morning. It was dissipated in the dawn hours. It would give confidence and place the necessary moral and political pressures on the paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican, who are there with their weapons. They would be forced into a process of decommissioning.

That is what we are all trying to achieve by inter-party negotiations and the various commissions that have been set up. Unless we can have the room and the atmosphere to bring those negotiations and commissions to a conclusion, we are forfeiting the political process and the peace that we have learnt after three decades to appreciate. We now know what we were missing for so long.

Some of my constituents have suffered the loss of their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and other relatives. They are grieving and they are traumatised. The political process asked them for another sacrifice over and above that which was visited upon them. We asked them to make a voluntary sacrifice for the sake of our society. We said, "Those who perpetrated those crimes on you and your family will be released within the cycle of the agreement. This will be difficult for you, and traumatic."

Of all those to whom I have spoken, no one has said, "Do not do that." Every one of them was prepared to make this enormous and additional sacrifice for the greater good of the community. They were all willing to do so because it was for the greater good of the community. They did not want eventually the same sacrifice and trauma to be visited on yet another person or family.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says but I have to tell him that I have met some of his constituents who do not hold the view that he has described. A Mrs. Irene Cochrane from Downpatrick lost her son who was serving with the Ulster Defence Regiment. She certainly does not hold the view that it is right for the prisoners to be released.

The hon. Gentleman talks about progress on decommissioning. The reality is that the international commission has been in place for many months, as has legislation and as have the modalities. There is no more progress to be made on these issues. Everything is now in place, and it has been for many months. But how many guns and bullets have been handed in? The hon. Gentleman knows that nothing has happened on these issues.

The release of prisoners is a mandatory and not a voluntary process, and one that the victims have no option but to accept. If they are being asked to accept that, society surely is entitled to require the decommissioning of weapons. More than half the prisoners are now out and yet not one bullet has been handed over. Imagine the outcry that there would have been—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is repeating himself in his own intervention.

Mr. McGrady

I take on board what the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) has said about members of certain families resenting the release of prisoners. I am saying that the vast majority of those whom I have met have said, with great reluctance and great difficulty, "If this sacrifice must be made yet again, for the greater good of our community and for peace for our children, we are prepared to wear this."

Yes, there has been prisoner release and no physical decommissioning of a weapon such as a gun or Semtex. However, why do we relate one with the other when they are separate issues? As I understand it, the process of prisoner release was to establish the ceasefire, thereby triggering the process by which decommissioning could take place. We must have the moral and political authority to force those who are still holding weapons, ammunition and Semtex to decommission because of the force of political and moral argument.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Lagan Valley included the word "voluntary". In a sense—I say this at the risk of being misunderstood—at the end of the day decommissioning will be a voluntary decision. No one—neither members of the security forces nor anyone else—can force decommissioning. No one can force the surrender of even one gun. We must establish the conditions in our community where moral and political authority will demand and deliver the decommissioning process. Thirty years of the most intense security surveillance and penetration did nothing to bring about decommissioning or to stem the flow of weapons. Let us take that as another aspect of decommissioning.

Everyone in the House knows that there could be decommissioning of whatever anyone liked tomorrow. That would leave us all standing like the emperor, politically naked. The following day the same people could re-arm and regroup quite easily. That is why we are talking not merely about physical decommissioning but about a decommissioning of the mind that requires us to ensure that the pursuance of any political objective with the use of weapons can no longer be tolerated and is no longer tolerated by any community in Ireland, north or south. The communities have already indicated that through the referendums in both north and south. Without equivocation, the people said that violence is out and weapons must not ever be used again in Ireland in pursuit of a political objective.

Mr. Grieve

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the obligation—as it was described by the Secretary of State—to decommission would not have been put in the agreement unless it was thought necessary to make the peace process work. Does he also agree that the process was designed to be gradual and spread out over two years? How does he envisage the time frame in which decommissioning should take place within that two-year period?

Mr. McGrady

The Good Friday agreement does not give a timetable, except a finishing date of May 2000, as I have already said. We must create the moral thrust and the political environment that will make decommissioning imperative. We must create the additional trust that will enable—or force—the paramilitaries of either persuasion to give up their weapons as their part in a trust-building exercise with the opposite communities.

Mr. Robert McCartney

If there is no power that will make the paramilitaries give up their weapons now, what security do we have to assure us—no matter what concessions we make—that they will give up their weapons within the two years? What are we to hope for if nothing can compel those thugs and terrorists to disarm?

Mr. McGrady

The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have been listening to me. I have said time and again that the only way that we can force decommissioning is by moral persuasion and political structures that make it impossible for paramilitaries to continue their activities with any support from either community.

The alternative required by the motion is to stop releasing prisoners, cut off the negotiations and bring everything to a halt until some weapons and Semtex are put on the table. If that is the logical consequence of the motion, it is a recipe for total disaster. The motion did not suggest an alternative process and nor did any of the hon. Members who have contributed so far. No doubt, we will receive the benefit of the wisdom of those hon. Members who will contribute later.

We have a difficult and delicate political process in train at the moment and this motion is giving all the wrong signals to those people who wish to destroy the edifice of political negotiation, decommissioning and prisoner release that has been so delicately brought together in one package. That process did not happen in a year or two: it took three decades to put it together. Three months could destroy it. Opposition Members who will presumably push the motion to a vote tonight are saying that we must halt all the processes until a gun or pound of Semtex is put on the table. That is putting a political weapon into the hands of those who say no to the Belfast agreement—Opposition Members are aligning themselves with that political attitude—and giving an additional weapon to the likes of the Provisional IRA and the UVF to use for further bargaining. We are trying to achieve a moral and political authority that will force the paramilitaries to decommission and I therefore hope that the Opposition will not press the motion to a vote.

5.35 pm
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

This is a difficult time in Northern Irish politics and a difficult process is under way. The stakes are enormously high and I hope that we can all agree that the last thing that we need is to use the issue as a party political opportunity instead of an opportunity to secure peace in Northern Ireland.

I shall assume in my speech that the Conservatives' intention is not to try to score party political points, because to do so would be in contravention of the spirit of the bipartisan agreement. In that context, I am surprised that the Conservatives have chosen to debate the issue in this form. It is not clear that this debate will make it easier for those who are trying so hard to negotiate, on decommissioning and in so many other areas, to achieve the results that we all want. Clearly, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) feels differently and he is entitled to do so, but we need to recognise the difference between legitimate concerns and the impact that a debate such as this may have in the longer term on what we are trying to achieve.

I was encouraged when the right hon. Member for Bracknell reaffirmed the Conservatives' commitment in spirit and in word to the Good Friday agreement. That is at the core of this debate. Technically, the Good Friday agreement has not been breached in any way. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) made it clear that the agreement contains an objective and unarguable two-year time frame. No staging posts have been written into the agreement, for good and pragmatic reasons. However, I am sure that all hon. Members wish to see progress on decommissioning soon, because a pressure is welling up in various bodies in Northern Ireland, political and non-political, and nervousness is growing.

Mr. Donaldson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a timetable for the release of prisoners in the Belfast agreement, or is the situation the same as for decommissioning—with no specific timetable, only a target date? Does he accept that we have had much progress on prisoner releases and no progress on decommissioning?

Mr. Öpik

The target date in the Good Friday agreement for prisoner releases is June 1999, so prisoner releases need to be completed ahead of decommissioning. To that extent, while we have talked about a parallel time frame, the two matters are likely to proceed at slightly different rates. The process has to contain a degree of good will as well as an element of risk. I did not hear Conservative Members argue when prisoner releases began that they were necessarily bad, although 1 stand to be corrected. The concern about prisoner releases has evolved as a result of the apparent non-movement on decommissioning.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

At the time, I and several of my hon. Friends asked the Government why the paramilitaries would give up their arms after all the prisoners had been released. What reason would the paramilitaries then have to give up their arms, since the Government would have played their trump card?

Mr. Öpik

I am not here to provide a tutorial on the elements of the Good Friday agreement; indeed, there are right hon. and hon. Members present who are far more competent to do so. However, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that there is two-way process for prisoner releases. If the conditions are breached, the opportunity for those people to remain as free individuals falls. That would apply if, for example, there were a break in the ceasefire. It might be difficult to implement that, but the hon. Gentleman must know that there is that two-way condition.

The Conservative's apparently intransigent position, that fear of falling, seems to motivate their agenda. As far as I can tell from the motion, the Conservatives are effectively focusing on one aspect—an important aspect—which is decommissioning, while taking their eye off the bigger ball. The debate is not really about decommissioning and prisoner releases; it is about securing a lasting peace with which all sides in Northern Ireland can live.

What is lacking here is a willingness to accept a degree of risk, which has probably been largely responsible for the progress that we have made so far. I would go so far as to say that, in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement, the motion operates on the assumption of a new condition. Just as we can debate the timetable, and so forth, so I point out unequivocally to the right hon. Member for Bracknell that there is nothing in the Good Friday agreement which states that prisoner releases must stop if the decommissioning process has not yet reached a specific staging post.

I stress again that I do not say that because I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's very reasonable nervousness with regard to the length of time that decommissioning has taken. Furthermore, I agree with his past comments that Sinn Fein must not hide behind fatuous excuses in order to vacillate; nor must they use legalistic arguments in order to pretend that they do not have a moral responsibility to participate. Once again, that has been a positive contribution made by Conservative Members in many debates.

We are all familiar with the arguments on decommissioning because we seem to have this debate once every two weeks in the House. Decommissioning has three key elements which are obstacles to its proceeding at a faster rate. One is the position of the various groups involved as they try to balance themselves between where they came from historically, briefly described by the hon. Member for South Down, and where they are heading in the future.

The second element is one of symbolism. Let us not pretend: an enormous amount of symbolism is associated with decommissioning. It is not easy for those involved to talk about it in public because, ultimately, there are big internal frictions in the organisations themselves over decommissioning.

The third element is one of strategy. People are engaged in tough negotiations in the Province. Decommissioning is a natural area for intense negotiations. That is not to justify the lack of progress on decommissioning, but it is to highlight the danger of putting the spotlight on decommissioning at a time when, unquestionably, there are processes and negotiations at a high level within the organisations and between the Government and those organisations in trying to secure progress. I would go as far as to say that that spotlight is rather unhelpful because it makes people take rather more intransigent positions in public than they might in private.

Punishment beatings have been mentioned. Had the official Opposition wanted a constructive debate today on Northern Ireland in which they could secure the support of both sides of the House, they might have chosen a motion on punishment beatings. I think that all hon. Members agree that an underlying level of insidious violence continues. Punishment beatings might more accurately be called mutilation attacks. There are those who have suffered such violence despite the official ceasefire.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I find the hon. Gentleman's train of thought interesting. Is he telling the House that, if there were a motion that no more prisoners should be released until punishment beatings stopped, he and his party would vote for it?

Mr. Öpik

No, we would not. As far as I can tell, the key issue—[Interruption.]—as the jeering from the Back Bench confirms, is that there are those, and I am not suggesting that Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen are among them, who seek to win party political points on an issue which it is profoundly important to set aside if the Conservatives are to honour the spirit of the bipartisan agreement.

To clarify my point—I apologise if I did not make it clearly enough—had we debated mutilation attacks and pressed the Secretary of State to make some investment of time and energy to show that they were unacceptable, we would certainly have voted with the Conservatives, and I should like to think that the House would not have divided on such a matter.

I highlight that point to show that talking about decommissioning is nowhere near as helpful as talking about the processes and the issues that are causing harm to individuals, such as the mutilation beatings. I hope that we will move away from calling them punishment beatings. Anyone who believes that a punishment beating is a legitimate form of justice is living in an age which passed away hundreds of years ago.

Let us consider the effect of the Opposition motion. What will happen if it is passed? Once again, this is an area of judgment, and clearly, my judgment is different from that of the right hon. Member for Bracknell. To pass that motion would be a gift-wrapped reason for those hard-line terrorists who want to see a resumption of violence to do exactly that. I say that because they could then turn round and say, "As you can see, the process has faltered."

However much the right hon. Member for Bracknell believes that he could explain it otherwise to the public, if the motion were passed, it would be almost impossible for it not to send a signal around the world that the House no longer believes that it can honour its half of the commitment in the Good Friday agreement. To me, that would be an absolute tragedy.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell may be sceptical about that problem and the likelihood of others misinterpreting the situation, but I remind him of the events in September this year when he himself commented on the Liberal Democrats' apparent commitment to vote against the prevention of terrorism legislation in the future. That completely fallacious idea did the rounds in the media and led the right hon. Gentleman, a man who is clued up about what is happening in Northern Ireland, to believe that it was the Liberal Democrats' position. He must know that he is playing with fire in tabling this motion because there are so many people who will see it as a sign of the breakdown of the bipartisan agreement.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be assiduous in ensuring that that misunderstanding does not go beyond this debate and that there is no danger that, in tomorrow's papers, there will be the slightest implication that the Conservatives are thinking of withdrawing from the bipartisan agreement. I wish him all speed in achieving that, however vigorous the reassurances to the press will need to be.

Lastly, I wish to compliment all those who have brought us thus far. Some insightful comments have been made. For example, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) clearly had a detailed understanding of the issues. In addition, the right hon. Member for Bracknell, who makes regular visits to the Province, is apprised of what is going on there. In congratulating those people, I must also think of those who operate in the sphere of northern Irish politics. I have much admiration for those who have brought us so far.

My request to those in the Chamber who are actively engaged in the politics of the Province is that they will not feel bound to take a binary decision. I hope that they do not feel that the spotlight, of which I talked earlier, in some way corrals them into taking a position that is more hard line than they might otherwise adopt.

The official Opposition may have felt the need to make those points, but I am not sure that it was entirely prudent to do so in this way. However, they have now done so and doubtless we shall have other similar debates. Given the political realities, as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater said, there is no prospect of the motion's being passed. Therefore, the only logic in voting for it is to stake a claim that can be realised as accurate only if the peace process fails.

We must plan for success, not for failure. Therefore, it is rather imprudent to corral the official Opposition into a position where—necessarily, if the process is successful—they will look as though they have committed a serious error of judgment.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically thoughtful contribution. Does he not agree that it would be dangerous if, for the sake of bipartisanship, hon. Members gave the impression that there is not a growing groundswell of considerable opposition to terrorist releases when they are not accompanied by moving the peace process on by degrees, as envisaged in the agreement? If we did that, would not we be sending the wrong message to those who must decommission if the agreement is to work?

Mr. Öpik

That is where we started. Although that is a fair summation of the Conservative position—the right hon. Member for Bracknell would agree with that—it is simply not where I stand. In such a sensitive debate, where so much more is conducted in private than in public, it is dangerous to throw the light of publicity on to the matter, especially at such a sensitive time.

We will see who is right in the course of events, but my judgment is that the motion makes it more difficult to achieve the very things that all hon. Members believe are vital to future long-lasting and consolidated peace in the Province. The issue is one of judgment. It was dangerous to bring the matter up in such a way, but it would be crass foolishness to push the motion to a vote. If it is voted on, we shall vote for the Government amendment, not for the Conservative motion.

It is always worth remembering that it is not bad faith that secures peace. I would like more of that from some quarters of the Chamber in the crucial months to come.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is limited time for the debate. I must appeal for brief speeches, otherwise people will be disappointed.

5.52 pm
Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall take account of your guidance.

Like other hon. Members, I regret the decision of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) to lend his name to this attempt by some, although by no means all, Opposition Members to rewrite the Belfast agreement. I take hope from the thought that, at some points, there have been only three Conservative Back Benchers present to listen to, and participate in, the debate.

Like most hon. Members and people across these islands, I shared the joy of the people of Northern Ireland on Good Friday, when agreement was reached after long and difficult negotiations. On 22 May, while people in northern and southern Ireland were voting overwhelmingly to support the agreement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was in my constituency, unveiling a sign for peace on the site of Warrington's international peace centre. She saw and shared the hope that people in Warrington have for the agreement.

While the people of Northern Ireland are working to implement the detail of the agreement, it would be dreadful if there were political opportunism and cherry-picking by hon. Members—looking for differences and exaggerating them, and stirring the pot for people's own narrow political interests. I hope that there will not be a vote on the motion.

As the voice of the people who elected me, I have a different story for hon. Members. Town centres are an economic key and the heart of their local community. The all-party group on town centre management, which is the largest after the beer club, is meeting in Westminster today. It is about normal society, as is recognised by all hon. Members.

The Warrington bombing by the IRA five years ago took two young lives and ripped the heart out of our town centre and our community. They were two more lives to add to more than 3,500 stolen by the conflict during the past three decades. It brought home to me and to many people in Warrington the fact that ordinary daily life in Northern Ireland was conducted in an environment of terror and threats of violence.

We desire to build reconciliation—a bridge. The word "bridge" means a lot in Warrington, because the bomb went off in Bridge street. We are trying to build a bridge with ordinary people in Northern Ireland, whose experience of terror we have shared directly. We have been building relationships. The Tim Parry scholarship has organised exchange visits for children, who learn about each other's cultures and communities. There are relationships between schools, and we have held sporting events with people from northern and southern Ireland. People have been getting together and enjoying themselves.

Warrington male voice choir has developed a programme, working with people in Belfast and in southern Ireland and bringing music and harmony across the islands, and so many people have given so much support to the Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball international peace centre. This has been about ordinary people, business sponsorship, raffles and sponsored walks. People across the north-west are investing time, money and energy in building friendships and breaking down barriers.

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of visiting Belfast and Omagh—town centres that have been torn by violence in the past—with Cohn and Wendy Parry, a civic party from Warrington and the male voice choir, which was participating in Christmas concerts. The discussions between civic leaders were of the kind that take place everywhere. They were about economic investment, growing small business, supporting women and helping them into business and sharing information about practical things, such as street furniture and arts centres, which are important for civic life.

The Belfast choir was spectacular—it was a wonderful concert—and the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Garda combined band was really good. There were more than 500 young people, from the north and the south and across cultural and religious groups. They worked hard and they sang well. They were exceptional, not because they came from north and south and from across different cultural groups, but in the excellence of their singing. They showed the future for Northern Ireland. Those children are exceptional because they have worked hard and have achieved something—they were celebrating it together.

It is the Christmas season. Madam Speaker held a service in Westminster Hall today, and that is the normal way to behave in this season—"sweet singing in the choir". The Omagh community choir sang "Across the Bridge of Hope" in Omagh and in Belfast. I am going to quote parts of it that the choir pointed out to me. [Interruption.] I honestly do not care whether Opposition Members are going to listen to this, because many other people will listen and give it their support.

For many people, "Across the Bridge of Hope" is the peace process. It says: For many hands have fashioned it, imperfect it may be But strong enough for plenty with support from you and me". The choir also sang: When history dictates, mistrust may just be vanity". Those are children's words, and it is important for adults to listen to children at any time—especially children from Omagh, who need us to hear what they are saying.

I want to tell Opposition Members a brief story about an exhibition on racism in Chicago. Two doors led into the exhibition, one saying "Prejudiced" and another saying "Unprejudiced". People chose which one to go through. When a person from Chicago was telling me this story, I said that I would go through the door saying "Unprejudiced". She said, "You wouldn't be able to, because it doesn't open. There is no such thing as a person without prejudice." I ask Opposition Members to learn from the past and to focus on the future, because it is our responsibility to create a better future. They should think carefully about how they will do that.

Tomorrow, the next part of the "out of darkness comes light" programme will take place in Omagh. It will include children's story-telling for Christmas. The 500 children in the Belfast choir sang a Slade song, "Merry Christmas everybody". It is a Christmas party song that people dance to, the chorus of which goes:

So here it is, Merry Christmas. Everybody's having fun. Look to the future now. It's only just begun. As politicians, as civic leaders and as adults—we are adults—we have the responsibility and opportunity to ensure that the children of these islands have a peaceful Christmas and many happy and prosperous new years. I hope that we take that opportunity.

6.1 pm

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

I regret that, because of the brevity of the debate, it will not be possible for those who come from Northern Ireland to speak with the depth of knowledge that years of experience of terrorism has given them. I do not want to be offensive, but the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) made about the most patronising speech that I have ever heard in the House.

I am a Northern Ireland Member, and I have been in the House for almost 16 years. Having lived most of my life in Northern Ireland, I cannot ignore the fact that the Conservative party, which tabled the motion, let down the people of Northern Ireland during its 18 years in government. It undermined the foundations on which political progress and peace could have been built long before now. It is heartbreaking to realise that the present Government, after being in opposition for so long, are making exactly the same mistakes.

I shall remind the official Opposition of the mistakes they made. There was the folly of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which was imposed on the people of Northern Ireland without their consent, and without any consideration of their wishes. It was one of the greatest boosts that terrorism ever had in the 30 years to which the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred. Those of us who understand the nature of terrorism remember the words of Danny Morrison, the publicity spokesman for Sinn Fein and IRA member, who talked about an Armalite and ballot box strategy.

One of the problems that my colleagues and I have faced over the years is the fact that both main parties in turn—as they have been in government—have pandered to those who can bring the greatest force to bear in Northern Ireland. That is what the Anglo-Irish Agreement did. Baroness Thatcher now admits that she was wrong to introduce that agreement, but she did so because she could not tolerate the level of violence in Northern Ireland. Whatever her motives, the naivety of that agreement was experienced by all of us for a decade and longer.

The Conservative Government's other huge faux pas was the framework documents, which were predicated on the notion that the way to bring an end to violence in Northern Ireland was to harmonise the two political entities. That again undermined the framework on which those of us who care about political progress and peace hoped to build.

Now, in the most disingenuous manner, the present Northern Ireland Office team are undermining the Stormont agreement, for which many of us feel we paid a huge price. It is all very well for them to say that they support the letter of the Stormont agreement, but every action currently taken by the Northern Ireland Office team undermines the confidence of the greater number of people within both traditions in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Minister responsible for security, the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), has arrived, and feels that it is incumbent on him to mutter to colleagues on the Front Bench.

I shall give an example of the disingenuous approach taken by the Northern Ireland Office. In the light of the continuing threat, I recently asked the Secretary of State if she will identify those permanent security structures which are currently under consideration for demolition. One would have thought that that list would be fairly short, given the danger to Northern Ireland as terrorists move, at their convenience, from one group to another— as they change cap badges. What did the Minister, who is still muttering, have to say? He said:

The Government are committed to returning Northern Ireland to normal policing and security arrangements as soon as it is safe to do so. This is clearly set out in the Good Friday Agreement. However, we can only move as fast as the security situation allows."—[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 620.] The Minister says that we can only move as fast as the security situation allows. It might have increased my confidence and that of my constituents if he had had the guts to tell me that the Aughnacloy checkpoint is being demolished, as it is at present. A permanent, reinforced structure will not be replaced—God help us, if the violence starts again—yet one of the reassurances given by the Northern Ireland Office was that no irreversible steps would be taken to lessen security in Northern Ireland.

My party has co-operated with measures to remove troops from Northern Ireland, and with other steps that have been taken to achieve normality on the streets. We wanted that obligation to be honoured, but that has not happened. That is part of the difficulty we face.

I recently learned that the entire network of cross-border permanent checkpoints is under threat. I was told that they will not necessarily be removed after violence has been brought to an end and the guns and bombs have been decommissioned, but at an appropriate time in the medium term. That undermines the confidence of those of us in Northern Ireland who support the Stormont agreement, and who want that agreement to be implemented even-handedly.

One difficulty is that the victims of the IRA who are sitting on the Labour Benches are different from the victims whom I represent. They are the victims of IRA propaganda, who chunter words such as "preconditions". The Secretary of State says that there will be no preconditions. Well, there are no preconditions since the signing of the Stormont agreement, but there are post-conditions, and, as I think that the Secretary of State is beginning to understand—she certainly did not understand it at Northern Ireland questions last week, but I think she is beginning to understand it now—those are obligations: obligations that must be fulfilled.

Mr. Donaldson

My hon. Friend has mentioned the obligations placed on the Government. As he will know, the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 places a specific obligation on the Secretary of State, requiring her, among other things, to take into account whether organisations benefiting from prisoner releases are co-operating fully with the International Commission on Decommissioning. Does my hon. Friend agree that no such organisation is currently co-operating with the commission?

Mr. Maginnis

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which returns me to a point that I made earlier about the nature of terrorism and the Armalite-and-ballot-box policy of the IRA. It is a policy that has been recognised by other paramilitary groups. It means that a terrorist can go into hibernation in terms of the Armalite, but can continue to undermine society by exploiting the political process. The Government are not, at this stage, dealing with that effectively.

If we are to make progress, we must understand what the IRA is trying to achieve. What will happen if the IRA can achieve the full release of prisoners, and a place within the Administration—the Executive—which will, in turn, enable it to discredit the Government? I shall remind the House shortly of the original position of the House in terms of disarmament; but, if the IRA can discredit the Government, with the guns still in place it can threaten society. As many speakers have pointed out today, we will then be asked, "Are you going to give up this armed peace for a real war?"

What does an armed peace—a phrase used by the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Bertie Ahern—offer a people in a democracy? Nothing, except exploitation by those who continue to threaten. There might just be an Omagh, an Enniskillen or a La Mon around the corner. Moreover, there is always the fallback that, if the Government show real commitment to real democracy, there might just be a Regent's park, a Canary wharf or a Warrington.

We know what blackmail is, because we have seen it for 30 years. It is being applied in terms of the work being done by the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland. We need only walk into a public meeting, as I did on Friday night, to see an entire bank of Sinn Fein-IRA members, well orchestrated—

Mr. McGrady

And Loyalists.

Mr. Maginnis

The hon. Gentleman is right to remind me of that, but I was talking about my constituency, which, as he knows, does not contain a very active Loyalist terrorist element. The same is, of course, true of his constituency. In parts of the east of the Province, however, there they are—the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and the rest.

At the meeting that I attended in Dungannon on Friday night, I observed that there were no ordinary members of the hon. Gentleman's tradition in the hall. 1 was told that, if they had been present, they would not have dared to open their mouths. A member of the IRA—the father of the late commanding officer in Dungannon, who was shot at Loughgall—read out his statement as though, somehow, he had been a victim of violence. The wife of one of the Ballygawley bus bombers explained how she had been a victim of the security forces.

The event was orchestrated to the last degree. A schoolmaster—a member of my tradition—made an even-handed and constructive contribution, and, after church on Sunday morning, I congratulated him on it. He—a man in his mid-sixties, who is well respected in the community—told me, "I found it very difficult, because I did not know whether that was a brick through my window or something worse, and I could not be sure what I was doing to my family." That is the extent of the intimidation that is occurring as the commission tries to fulfil its obligation to society in Northern Ireland. There is no balance.

It really is time that Northern Ireland Ministers went out and met IRA propaganda head on. It is time that they took the trouble to prove that the IRA is incorrect in saying, "There is no tradition of disarmament. Where did you ever hear of disarmament taking place where there has been a civil conflict?" I could name El Salvador, the Lebanon, Mozambique, Guatemala and, currently, Colombia. Disarmament is taking place as a result of political agreements that are being honoured by some of the most callous militias and other terrorist groups; why should Northern Ireland be any different? Why should the Secretary of State baulk at the idea that to meet Sinn Fein-IRA and other paramilitary organisations head on is somehow to leave us in a worse position than we are in now?

The people of Northern Ireland, more than 70 per cent. of whom voted in favour of the Stormont agreement, do not expect to be betrayed, but they feel that the Government, and, in particular, the Northern Ireland Office, have been equivocal and evasive. I do not know why the Prime Minister does not step in as he did before 10 April, with the same enthusiasm and gusto, and reassure the people; someone must meet that obligation.

I will end with that thought, as others wish to speak.

6.19 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I intend to make the briefest speech in the debate, although I shall not resume my seat immediately.

I remind the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) of a comment made by Senator Mitchell in his Dimbleby lecture last week: I am not objective. I'm deeply biased in favour of the people of Northern Ireland. Having spent nearly four years among them, I've come to like and admire them. While they can be quarrelsome and too quick to take offence, they are also warm and generous, energetic and productive. I was prompted to make that comment by the hon. Gentleman's charmless response to the charming speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth).

I regret the motion. It is deeply unhelpful. I readily say that, when we have our debates, the exchanges with the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) are always civil-minded and courteous. Despite that courtesy and civil-mindedness, he has made a grave error of judgment in tabling the motion at this moment.

It is right and proper that the Opposition offer tough-minded and legitimate criticisms of Government policy, even where, broadly, we have the same aspirations. I say the same to the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). He, too, was right to say that it is entirely legitimate to be tough-minded in response to a Government's policies. Labour Members were the same when we occupied the Opposition Benches. It will be many years before we are back there, but that is another story.

Similarly, I thought that the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) offered a fair-minded intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was characteristically honest. Hon. Members will recall that he said that the subject is deeply divisive and the problem complicated and almost intractable, but, again, that he was right to offer criticisms of the Government. That is the duty of the Opposition, but the motion is a mistake.

I remind the House of something else that Senator George Mitchell said the other day: This week I met in Cork with the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, and in Belfast with the leaders of the new Northern Ireland Assembly and the political parties. As you know, so far they have been unable to resolve issues relating to formation of the executive and the decommissioning of arms. There is uneasiness among some about the continuing release of prisoners. I suspect that some hon. Members would say that that is an understatement.

Senator Mitchell went on: Next year there will be further controversy when reports are received from the independent commission on policing and the criminal justice system. Policing is especially sensitive. Chris Patten and his colleagues on that commission have an important and difficult task. I, along with other hon. Members of committee A of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, will meet Chris Patten on Monday in this building.

Senator Mitchell said—here he cannot be accused of understatement: It will take extraordinary determination and commitment to get safely through all of these problems. But I believe it can be done and will be done. It would be an immense tragedy were the process to fail now. The British and Irish Governments and the political leaders of Northern Ireland have come too far to let peace slip away. He is absolutely right. We have known all along that decommissioning would be the most difficult question to address and to settle, but with patient, painstaking negotiations, and with the intervention of General de Chastelain and his colleagues, much can be achieved over the next 16 to 17 months.

I remain—like Senator Mitchell, I like to think—a warm friend of the people of Northern Ireland, and optimistic that the painstaking negotiations can bring about the outcome that all of us want. There is too much pessimism on those matters among hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I should like to see more optimism and more faith in the people who are at the forefront of the endeavours.

I fully support what the Secretary of State is doing, and I am not being encouraged by—

Mr. Paterson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Godman

Sit down.

I am not being encouraged by active Parliamentary Private Secretaries, or even tough—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not addressing that remark to the Chair.

Dr. Godman

I would not dare, Sir. I was just asking someone across the way—certainly not you—to sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman must know that matters of order are for the Chair and not for him.

Dr. Godman

I take that stricture, and apologise to you, Sir.

The Secretary of State's position is absolutely right on the issue. We should vote against the motion, and support the Government.

6.26 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

I shall be as brief as possible.

I have a facsimile of the letter that the Prime Minister wrote in his hand on 20 May. It is headed: My pledge to the people of Northern Ireland. There are five pledges. The last two are worthy of consideration:

Those who use or threaten violence excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland", and Prisoners kept in unless violence is given up for good"— some pledges.

The fact that this debate is taking place is testimony to the fact that promises have been broken and trust betrayed. If the Prime Minister had kept his word—the word that he spoke at Balmoral on 14 May and repeated in the hand-written letter of 20 May, in the letter that was published in the News Letter and Irish Independent on referendum day and referred to on many occasions in the House, in particular on 6 May—there would be no need for this debate, but the Prime Minister and the Government have not kept their word. They have not honoured their pledge. The Government have betrayed the trust of the people of Northern Ireland and broken promises that were made to them.

Few people, if any, deny that many Unionists voted yes on referendum day and for pro-agreement candidates in the Assembly elections because the Government had promised—so those Unionists understood—that there would be a direct link between decommissioning and early release, and between decommissioning and places on the Executive.

Mr. Wilshire

Like me, my hon. Friend was in Northern Ireland recently—we were at the same place. Did he hear what I heard on that occasion—a significant number of Unionists saying that they had voted yes in the referendum to give the process a chance, but felt utterly betrayed and that they were now being sold out through appeasement, which was going to get them nowhere?

Mr. Hunter

I do recall that powerful occasion and endorse what my hon. Friend has said. One reason why those people said that was because they perhaps remembered the exchange in the House on 6 May 1998, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister if he agreed that prisoners should not be released early until the organisations to which they belong have substantially decommissioned their weapons".—[Official Report, 6 May; Vol. 311, c. 711.] Audio recordings of our proceedings confirm that the Prime Minister replied:

The answer to your question is, yes, of course". He went on further and applied it. He said:

both in respect of taking seats in the government of Northern Ireland and the early release of prisoners"— no ifs, no buts, unequivocal, unambiguous. The Prime Minister in this Chamber said, "No early release, no places on the Executive without decommissioning."

The second episode worth remembering is the letter that the Prime Minister wrote to two Northern Ireland newspapers, which was printed on 22 May. It said:

There can be no accelerated prisoner release unless organisations and individuals concerned have clearly given up violence for good. That has not happened. The violence continues. There has been no let-up since the agreement, but the prisoners are coming out.

The Prime Minister continued: Representatives of parties intimately linked to paramilitary groups can only be in a future Northern Ireland Government if it is clear that there will be no more violence and the threat of violence has gone. That does not just mean decommissioning, but all bombings, killings, beatings, an end to targeting, recruiting and all the structures of terrorism. Thankfully, the terrorists have pressed the pause button on the bombings, but they retain the capability to resume them whenever they want. Meanwhile, the killings, beatings, targeting and recruiting continue and the structures of terrorism remain intact.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, in particular because the majority of Unionists on the Opposition Benches voted against the Belfast agreement, but it looks as though none of us will be called to speak in the debate. May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, which relates decommissioning to the release of prisoners? It was a Government proposal, which was enacted by the House. Under that measure, the Secretary of State has powers to stop prisoners being released because decommissioning has not taken place.

Mr. Hunter

The hon. Gentleman is correct.

Finally, since 1 November—a mere five weeks—there have been 29 exiles, 11 shootings and 15 beatings in Northern Ireland and 138 people have been the victims of intimidation of a different nature. The Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the IRA have all been involved in that grisly catalogue of mental and physical torture. Meanwhile, the obscene process of early release continues. The Prime Minister said:

There can be no accelerated prisoner releases unless organisations and individuals concerned have clearly given up violence for good. What was intended to be a peace process, long ago turned into a shameful process of appeasement. Labour Members say that there would have been no agreement without early release. So be it. A civilised society has core values, which include the rule of law and a judicial system that is independent of political interference. Neither exists in Northern Ireland—they died with the agreement.

6.32 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

The wording of the motion was carefully drafted, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) pointed out. The first part includes three comments that were made by the Prime Minister: the first at Balmoral on 14 May 1998; the second from Hansard on 20 April 1998; in response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition; and the third in a response at Prime Minister's Question Time on 6 May. I shall read the last of the three quotations:

The only organisations that can qualify to take seats in the government of Northern Ireland and can expect the early release of prisoners are those that have given up violence for good". In another answer, he said

Decommissioning is part of that".—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] Listening to the views of the Government this evening, I find it extremely difficult to understand how they can oppose their own Prime Minister's words. We are asking that those pledges—given not only on those three occasions, but consistently throughout the past seven months—should be honoured.

We have been consistent in our approach to the issues. In May, the Leader of the Opposition put the salient points to the Prime Minister. We are returning to the theme this evening because we are unhappy at developments, as is obvious from comments made in the debate by Conservative Members in particular, by those who favoured the Belfast agreement and were a party to it, and by those with a vested interest in the future of Northern Ireland.

There is no break in the bipartisan approach. Nor do we seek to oppose or rewrite the agreement, as many Labour Members reading the Whip's notes are told to ask. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said in his most telling contribution, hon. Members have a right to debate and to express opinions in the House, and not merely the opinions of Members, who have their own worries and considerations on the matter, but those of many people in Northern Ireland. I would go further. We also have a duty to express the fears, worries and concerns of the electorate we represent. This matter does not pertain merely to Northern Ireland. The entire United Kingdom electorate has a definite view of the situation. My right hon. Friend said that, to date, Government statements from the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been entirely admirable and I agree, but he went on, tellingly, to say that he believed that, so far, the giving had been one-sided.

On the views of our electorate on the mainland of Britain, I refer the House to a Gallup poll that was printed in The Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago on Friday 6 November. The article, which was written by Anthony King, who is Professor of Government at Essex University and a well-known authority on these matters, stated:

There is overwhelming hostility to the early release of convicted terrorist prisoners. In the view of three quarters of Britons, prisoner releases should be halted until all terrorist weapons have been decommissioned. Gallup's data shows large numbers of voters are uneasy about some of the Blair Government's actions in connection with peace negotiations … Only 21 per cent. of people in Britain believe that the IRA 'has permanently renounced terrorism' and all but a tiny minority believe that terrorist organisations should be required to decommission all their weapons at once. The majority view is that weapons decommissioning should be complete before any further concessions are made to Sinn Fein and the IRA. Seventy per cent. are hostile to Sinn Fein joining any new devolved government in Northern Ireland pending the surrender of weapons and even more, 74 per cent., opposed further prisoner releases until the same condition is met.

Ms Moran

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss

We are running short of time, so if the hon. Lady does not mind, I will make progress.

In this House, we have a responsibility to represent the views of the electorate on the mainland of Great Britain. On prisoner release, it is time that we shot the fox that appears in every debate on the subject, probably due to the Labour Whip's notes. There is a fundamental difference between the prisoner releases that took place under the previous Government and those that are taking place now. That difference has been reiterated this evening and I shall explain it again so that, in future, Labour Members will tell their Whips, "No, we've had that debate", and say that they do not need that piece of paper any more.

Under the previous Government, no life prisoners had their sentences reduced. When there was a ceasefire, some concessions were made in the negotiations, but we simply resumed remission levels of 50 per cent., as they had dropped to one third when we faced increased violence. That is the position on prisoner release under the previous Government, so let us have no more red herrings.

The argument of the Secretary of State seemed to hinge on the definition of a ceasefire. She referred to the agreement and the linkage between prisoner release and a ceasefire and prisoner release and decommissioning. To return to the Prime Minister's statement on 6 May, which was:

It is essential that organisations that want to benefit from the early release of prisoners should give up violence. Decommissioning is part of that, of course".—[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.] I simply do not understand how, on the one hand we can talk about a ceasefire, and on the other reject the definition of giving up violence for good. Only last week, during Northern Ireland Question Time the Secretary of State said: I am not saying … 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."—[Official Report, 2 December 1998; Vol. 321, c. 873.] She repeated the word "obligation" this evening.

If it is an obligation, why was the right hon. Lady unable to answer my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) when he asked her not once, not twice, but three times the fundamental and crucial question that we posed on other occasions and again tonight: is it possible that all the prisoners could be released with no weapons or explosives having been decommissioned? Perhaps she will answer yes or no in her reply to the debate so that we can have it on record.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said that there was not a time scale but a time limit. The agreement talks in terms of a two-year limit. Are we suggesting that, at the end of two years, if prisoner release continues at its present rate, it is likely that all the prisoners will be out? Are we saying, and are the hon. Member for South Down and the Secretary of State saying, that it is highly possible that, at the end of two years, all the prisoners will have been released with no decommissioning at all having taken place? That is the fundamental question. It has been posed on many occasions and we have never received an answer.

The motion has been criticised by the Liberal Democrats. Would not the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Opik) like an answer to that question? Does he know the answer? If he does, perhaps he will intervene. We would like an answer and that is why we tabled the motion. Indeed, that is why we shall vote on it. However, if as we expect, it is defeated, we shall not oppose the amended motion that may come in its wake.

6.42 pm
Marjorie Mowlam

With the leave of the House I shall respond to the debate. As I said at the start, it has provided a welcome opportunity to examine the progress that we are making on the Good Friday agreement. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged that progress is more rapid in some areas than in others. Whether we are talking about the shadow executive, the shadow assembly, the north-south implementation bodies, the north-south ministerial council, human rights, the Equality Commission, decommissioning, prisoner releases, the police or criminal justice reviews, we need to make progress on all those fronts together if the Good Friday agreement is to succeed.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) must accept that, while a complete and unequivocal ceasefire is being maintained—he agrees that it is—the agreement requires that prisoner releases continue. He cannot say that he supports the agreement and then refuse to accept what the parties actually agreed. The right hon. Gentleman may be able to live with that contradiction in opposition, but the Government must remain consistent with the agreement.

The hon. Members for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) quoted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself extensively. The Prime Minister's pledges and my statements are compatible with the agreement. The Opposition motion is not and that is why we cannot support it. Our position is clear. Progress needs to be made on all aspects of the Good Friday agreement. Earlier in the debate, I accepted that progress had been uneven. The answer is not to slow down on the issues on which progress has been made, but to speed up progress on the rest and eliminate the inequality. People need time and space to implement the agreement and the fact that they are being harried as a result of tonight's debate will achieve nothing.

I echo the comments by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) about punishment beatings, or mutilations as he referred to them. I keep the matter under continuous review, particularly after the events at the weekend with the Loyalist Volunteer Force. Next week, I shall meet all the parties attached to paramilitary groups to discuss precisely that issue as it is of deep concern to us.

I thank the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the right hon. Members for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) and for Bridgwater (Mr. King) for their speeches, which were honest and tried to show the complexity of the situation that they faced in government and some of the current difficulties. As two out of those three said, we would like more and quicker progress, but we can move only as quickly as the political leaders in the talks process. We shall do everything we can to encourage and facilitate that.

Several Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, said that the House was being denied the right to debate the issue. Of course it is not. However, if hon. Members vote for the motion, they will be voting to rewrite the Good Friday agreement and that cannot be done.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) raised a specific point about Aughnacloy. All normalisation measures are taken on the advice of the Chief Constable and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he guards his independence jealously and makes his own decisions. The demolition of the permanent vehicle checkpoint at Aughnacloy was his decision based on his professional judgment. Far from concealing it, the decision was announced on 20 September, but had been in the public domain for some weeks. Any future de-escalation measures will also be based on security advice.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Marjorie Mowlam

I must make progress as time is short.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) asked about the timetable for prisoner releases. The timetable for the accelerated release of prisoners is the responsibility of the Sentence Review Commission, acting in accordance with the terms of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act. He asked, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), whether all prisoners will be out in two years' time. The short answer is no. Many will still be in prison and the date is reviewable if progress is not made. Difficulties will arise if there is not sufficient confidence for progress to be made on all parts of the agreement before then.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

Marjorie Mowlam

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I am not giving way.

As I said earlier, I welcome the debate. It is right that we record what progress is being made on the Good Friday agreement. There is a long way to go, but the talks are continuing and I believe that the will is there to reach an agreement. Of course people on both sides are scared of the present position. They fear that progress is being stalled. It is a genuine fear that is common to both communities, but people are even more anxious that progress will not be made and that the process will move backwards. That is why I appeal to all those involved in the talks and all those holding positions of authority in Northern Ireland to do all that they can to make progress on all aspects of the Good Friday agreement.

When one talks to people in Northern Ireland, they express a lack of confidence in the agreement. However, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth) who mentioned their desire for normality. Despite the rude comments from Opposition Members, I agree with what she said about those in Warrington who suffered in the same way as people in Northern Ireland. I do not think that we should discuss whether a life lost in Northern Ireland is of more or less value than a life lost in Warrington or Canary wharf. We in the House treat the deaths of people and the sadness that it produces with equal seriousness and determination to ensure that progress is made. Therefore, I ask the House to support the Government amendment tonight and vote against the Opposition motion.

6.50 pm
Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I want to bring again to the attention of the House what is in the agreement. We have had a lot of discussion tonight about that. Let us look at what it contains on the release of prisoners. It says clearly: Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements. That is the arrangements for prisoner release. It is beyond doubt that the organisations at present benefiting from the arrangements are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. Those ceasefires are being breached. Complete and unequivocal surely should mean an end to violence—that violence is not being perpetrated by those organisations.

As other right hon. and hon. Members have said, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, an independent organisation partly funded by the very Government whose task it is to oversee the release of prisoners, has demonstrated that all these organisations are engaged in violence. They are breaching their ceasefires on a regular basis. I do not see how the Government can claim that the organisations benefiting from the release of their terrorist prisoners are maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. Surely "unequivocal" means that there is no equivocation on the question of violence. Yet the statistics for the last month alone clearly demonstrate that all those organisations that the Secretary of State has deemed to be maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire are continuing to engage in acts of violence.

Mr. Maginnis

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Secretary of State endeavours to evade her responsibilities by blaming the Chief Constable, the Chief Constable was unequivocal in pointing his finger after the Belfast-Donegal Celtic football team affair? He made it clear that the Provisional IRA had intimidated the members of that team into changing their decision.

Mr. Donaldson

I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. It refers to an issue that was pointed up by Government Members when they talked about the new change happening in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) talked about the new changes. Yes, there are new changes, but unfortunately some of the mindsets have not changed. The action of Sinn Fein-IRA in dealing with the Donegal—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may think that it is funny that footballers who want to play a game of football are intimidated. I do not think that it is funny and neither do the footballers or the members of the Donegal Celtic football club. If the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) wishes to intervene, I will give way to him, but since he remains seated it is obvious—

Mr. McCabe

Am I right in thinking that, in condemning intimidation, the hon. Gentleman is even handed and also condemns the outrageous intimidation at Drumcree and the outrageous attacks on the RUC in the past week, which the Chief Constable has condemned?

Mr. Donaldson

Indeed, without any equivocation, I condemn all acts of violence against the RUC or any person in Northern Ireland. My record on condemning violence is there for anyone to check. It has been consistent.

In reference to the Donegal Celtic affair, the IRA is not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. When it signed up to the agreement, Sinn Fein said that it was committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. How can it be democratic when it intimidates and sets about beating people up and shooting them?

Ms Moran

I acknowledge the violence that the hon. Gentleman describes, but does he agree with the comments of Senator George Mitchell at the Richard Dimbleby lecture? He said: But to succumb to the temptation to retaliate would give the criminals what they want: escalating sectarian violence and the end of the peace process. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are in grave danger of giving the terrorists what they want by trying to dismember the Northern Ireland agreement, as the motion attempts to do? Does he agree that it would be better if we acknowledged the more than 71 per cent. support for the whole of the agreement and did not divide the House on such an important issue so that we could make progress?

Mr. Donaldson

No one is talking about retaliation by the use of violence and intimidation. May I quote to the hon. Lady the words of one Donegal Celtic footballer? He said: we all received the phone threats and we know who threatened us. In fact he was only released from jail recently. That is why we took the threat so seriously because we all knew who this man was and what he was capable of. This man is the sort of person who is being released from prison and engaging in intimidation. According to Families Against Intimidation and Terror, a number of prisoners have been involved in so-called punishment attacks. Yet the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 says that they must refrain from violence. There is a lot of duplicity here.

When we talk about the agreement, let us also talk about the legislation that has been passed by the House, namely, the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act. People ask where is the link between decommissioning and prisoner releases. It is in the law passed by this House. A link has been created between the release of prisoners and decommissioning. The Act that this House passed and the Government proposed says: The Secretary of State shall in particular take into account whether an organisation… is co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997". In my opinion, none of the organisations benefiting from prisoner releases are co-operating fully with that commission. Some of them have not even appointed a liaison officer to the international commission.

What I and the decent people of Northern Ireland, including those who voted for the agreement, want to know is when the Secretary of State will fulfil the obligations placed on her by the House and ensure that those organisations benefiting from prisoner releases start to co-operate fully with the international commission and that we start to make progress on the question of arms. There is a link between decommissioning and prisoner releases. Tenuous though it may be, it is there. The Government are under an obligation to ensure that we make progress on decommissioning. As the Opposition say, if we do not, the Government have to review the question of prisoner releases. There cannot be a blank cheque.

One Labour Member talked about turning the key. The problem for many people in Northern Ireland is that the key that is being turned is the key to the cells in the Maze prison and that prisoners are being let out. Nothing is being given in response by terrorist organisations by way of decommissioning and an end to violence, threats, punishment beatings, shootings and maimings. All those things continue and have increased since the agreement was signed. That is not an end to violence. It is not peace. It is intimidation and violence and, for as long as it continues, the Government must review the whole question of prisoner releases.

6.59 pm
Mr. MacKay

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 142, Noes 376.

Division No. 19] [6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Duncan Smith, Iain
Amess, David Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Evans, Nigel
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Faber, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fabricant, Michael
Bercow, John Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beresford, Sir Paul Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Blunt, Crispin Fox, Dr Liam
Body, Sir Richard Fraser, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Gibb, Nick
Brady, Graham Gill, Christopher
Brazier, Julian Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Browning, Mrs Angela Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gray, James
Burns, Simon Greenway, John
Butterfill, John Grieve, Dominic
Cash, William Gummer, Rt Hon John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Chope, Christopher Hammond, Philip
Clappison, James Hawkins, Nick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Hayes, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey Horam, John
Collins, Tim Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hunter, Andrew
Cran, James Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Jenkin, Bernard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) St Aubyn, Nick
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Richard
Lansley, Andrew Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Letwin, Oliver Soames, Nicholas
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lidington, David Spicer, Sir Michael
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Loughton, Tim Swayne, Desmond
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Syms, Robert
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tapsell, Sir Peter
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maginnis, Ken Townend, John
Malins, Humfrey Tredinnick, David
Maples, John Trend, Michael
Mates, Michael Tyrie, Andrew
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Walter, Robert
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wardle, Charles
Wells, Bowen
May, Mrs Theresa Whitney, Sir Raymond
Moss, Malcolm Whittingdale, John
Norman, Archie Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ottaway, Richard Wilkinson, John
Page, Richard Willetts, David
Paice, James Wilshire, David
Paterson, Owen Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Pickles, Eric Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Prior, David Woodward, Shaun
Randall, John Yeo, Tim
Redwood, Rt Hon John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Tellers for the Ayes:
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Mr. Nigel Waterson and
Ruffley, David Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Borrow, David
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov-try NE) Bradshaw, Ben
Allan, Richard Brake, Tom
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Brand, Dr Peter
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Breed, Colin
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Ashton, Joe Browne, Desmond
Atherton, Ms Candy Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Atkins, Charlotte Burgon, Colin
Austin, John Burnett, John
Baker, Norman Burstow, Paul
Ballard, Jackie Butler, Mrs Christine
Banks, Tony Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Barnes, Harry Cable, Dr Vincent
Barron, Kevin Caborn, Richard
Battle, John Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Bayley, Hugh Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Beard, Nigel Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Begg, Miss Anne Campbell—Savours, Dale
Beith, Rt Hon A J Canavan, Dennis
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cann, Jamie
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Caplin, Ivor
Bennett, Andrew F Casale, Roger
Benton, Joe Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bermingham, Gerald Chaytor, David
Betts, Clive Chidgey, David
Blackman, Liz Chisholm, Malcolm
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Clapham, Michael
Blears, Ms Hazel Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Blizzard, Bob Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Boateng, Paul Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hancock, Mike
Clwyd, Ann Hanson, David
Cohen, Harry Harris, Dr Evan
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Colman, Tony Healey, John
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cooper, Yvette Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corbett, Robin Hepburn, Stephen
Corbyn, Jeremy Heppell, John
Corston, Ms Jean Hesford, Stephen
Cousins, Jim Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cranston, Ross Hinchliffe, David
Crausby, David Home Robertson, John
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hood, Jimmy
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hope, Phil
Cummings, John Hopkins, Kelvin
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov-try S) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire Howells, Dr Kim
Dafis, Cynog Hoyle, Lindsay
Darvill, Keith Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hughes, Simon (Southward N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Humble, Mrs Joan
Davidson, Ian Hurst, Alan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Iddon, Dr Brian
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Illsley, Eric
Dean, Mrs Janet Ingram, Adam
Denham, John Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Jamieson, David
Dobbin, Jim Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Donohoe, Brian H Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Drown, Ms Julia Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jowell, Ms Tessa
Edwards, Huw Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ellman, Mrs Louise Keeble, Ms Sally
Ennis, Jeff Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Etherington, Bill Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Keetch, Paul
Fearn, Ronnie Kemp, Fraser
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Fisher, Mark Khabra, Piara S
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kidney, David
Flint, Caroline Kilfoyle, Peter
Flynn, Paul King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Foster, Don (Bath) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fyfe, Maria Laxton, Bob
Gapes, Mike Lepper, David
Gardiner, Barry Leslie, Christopher
George, Andrew (St Ives) Levitt, Tom
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gerard, Neil Linton, Martin
Gibson, Dr Ian Livingstone, Ken
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Livsey, Richard
Godman, Dr Norman A Llwyd, Elfyn
Godsiff, Roger Lock, David
Goggins, Paul Love, Andrew
Golding, Mrs Llin McAllion, John
Gorrie, Donald McAvoy, Thomas
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCabe, Steve
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Grocott, Bruce McDonnell, John
Grogan, John McFall, John
Gunnell, John McGrady, Eddie
McGuire, Mrs Anne Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McIsaac, Shona Rowlands, Ted
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Ruane, Chris
Mackinlay, Andrew Ruddock, Ms Joan
McNulty, Tony Russell, Bob (Colchester)
MacShane, Denis Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Mactaggart, Fiona Salter, Martin
McWalter, Tony Sanders, Adrian
McWilliam, John Sarwar, Mohammad
Mahon, Mrs Alice Savidge, Malcolm
Mallaber, Judy Shaw, Jonathan
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sheerman, Barry
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Shipley, Ms Debra
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marshall—Andrews, Robert Singh, Marsha
Martlew, Eric Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Merron, Gillian Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Michael, Alun Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Michie, Bill (Shef-ld Heeley) Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Snape, Peter
Milburn, Alan Soley, Clive
Miller, Andrew Southworth, Ms Helen
Mitchell, Austin Squire, Ms Rachel
Moffatt, Laura Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Moore, Michael Steinberg, Gerry
Moran, Ms Margaret Stevenson, George
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Stinchcombe, Paul
Morley, Elliot Stoate, Dr Howard
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stott, Roger
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Mullin, Chris Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Stringer, Graham
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stuart, Ms Gisela
Norris, Dan Stunell, Andrew
Oaten, Mark Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Olner, Bill Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Öpik, Lembit Temple—Morris, Peter
Organ, Mrs Diana Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Palmer, Dr Nick Timms, Stephen
Pearson, Ian Tipping, Paddy
Pendry, Tom Todd, Mark
Perham, Ms Linda Touhig, Don
Pickthall, Colin Trickett, Jon
Pike, Peter L Truswell, Paul
Plaskitt, James Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pound, Stephen Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Powell, Sir Raymond Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tyler, Paul
Prescott, Rt Hon John Vaz, Keith
Primarolo, Dawn Wallace, James
Purchase, Ken Walley, Ms Joan
Quinn, Lawrie Ward, Ms Claire
Radice, Giles Wareing, Robert N
Rammell, Bill Webb, Steve
Rapson, Syd White, Brian
Raynsford, Nick Whitehead, Dr Alan
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wicks, Malcolm
Rendel, David Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Willis, Phil
Rogers, Allan Wills, Michael
Rooker, Jeff Winnick, David
Rooney, Terry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey Tellers for the Noes:
Wood, Mike
Wray, James Mr. Keith Hill and
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek Mr. Greg Pope.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 352, Noes 7.

Division No. 20] [7.13 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chaytor, David
Ainger, Nick Chidgey, David
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clapham, Michael
Allan, Richard Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Portlands)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atkins, Charlotte Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Austin, John Clelland, David
Baker, Norman Clwyd, Ann
Ballard, Jackie Cohen, Harry
Banks, Tony Coleman, Iain
Barnes, Harry Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Battle, John Cooper, Yvette
Bayley, Hugh Corbett, Robin
Beard, Nigel Corbyn, Jeremy
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Corston, Ms Jean
Begg, Miss Anne Cousins, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A J Crausby, David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bennett, Andrew F Cummings, John
Benton, Joe Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bermingham, Gerald Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Betts, Clive Curtis—Thomas, Mrs Claire
Blackman, Liz Darvill, Keith
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Blears, Ms Hazel Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blizzard, Bob Davidson, Ian
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Boateng, Paul Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Borrow, David Dean, Mrs Janet
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Denham, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Brand, Dr Peter Dobbin, Jim
Breed, Colin Donohoe, Brian H
Brinton, Mrs Helen Doran, Frank
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Dowd, Jim
Browne, Desmond Drown, Ms Julia
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burgon, Colin Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burnett, John Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Burstow, Paul Edwards, Huw
Butler, Mrs Christine Ellman, Mrs Louise
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Ennis, Jeff
Cable, Dr Vincent Etherington, Bill
Caborn, Richard Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fitzpatrick, Jim
Campbell—Savours, Dale Flint, Caroline
Cann, Jamie Flynn, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Foster, Don (Bath)
Casale, Roger Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Lepper, David
Fyfe, Maria Leslie, Christopher
Gapes, Mike Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Linton, Martin
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Livingstone, Ken
Gerrard, Neil Livsey, Richard
Gibson, Dr Ian Llwyd, Elfyn
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lock, David
Godman, Dr Norman A Love, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger McAllion, John
Goggins, Paul McAvoy, Thomas
Golding, Mrs Llin McCabe, Steve
Gorrie, Donald McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonnell, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McFall, John
Grocott, Bruce McGrady, Eddie
Grogan, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gunnell, John McIsaac, Shona
Hain, Peter McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McNulty, Tony
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) MacShane, Denis
Hancock, Mike Mactaggart, Fiona
Hanson, David McWalter, Tony
Harris, Dr Evan McWilliam, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mahon, Mrs Alice
Healey, John Mallaber, Judy
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Heppell, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hesford, Stephen Marshall—Andrews, Robert
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Maxton, John
Hinchliffe, David Merron, Gillian
Home Robertson, John Michael, Alun
Hood, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Shef-ld Heeley)
Hope, Phil Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hopkins, Kelvin Milburn, Alan
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Miller, Andrew
Howells, Dr Kim Moffatt, Laura
Hoyle, Lindsay Moran, Ms Margaret
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Humble, Mrs Joan Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hurst, Alan Morley, Elliot
Iddon, Dr Brian Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Illsley, Eric Mullin, Chris
Ingram, Adam Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jamieson, David Norris, Dan
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Oaten, Mark
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Olner, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jowell, Ms Tessa Osborne, Ms Sandra
Keeble, Ms Sally Palmer, Dr Nick
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pearson, Ian
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pendry, Tom
Keetch, Paul Perham, Ms Linda
Kemp, Fraser Pickthall, Colin
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pike, Peter L
Khabra, Piara S Plaskitt, James
Kidney, David Pollard, Kerry
Kilfoyle, Peter Pound, Stephen
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Powell, Sir Raymond
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Prescott, Rt Hon John
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Primarolo, Dawn
Laxton, Bob Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce Stringer, Graham
Quinn, Lawrie Stunell, Andrew
Radice, Giles Sutcliffe, Gerry
Rammell, Bill Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rapson, Syd
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rendel, David Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple—Morris, Peter
Rooker, Jeff Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rooney, Terry Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Timms, Stephen
Rowlands, Ted Tipping, Paddy
Ruane, Chris Todd, Mark
Ruddock, Ms Joan Touhig, Don
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Trickett, Jon
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Truswell, Paul
Salter, Martin Turner, Dennis (Wolveth'ton SE)
Sarwar, Mohammad Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Dr George (Norfolk)
Shaw, Jonathan Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sheerman, Barry Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Vaz, Keith
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Walley, Ms Joan
Singh, Marsha Ward, Ms Claire
Skinner, Dennis Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Watts, David
Webb, Steve
Smith, Angela (Basildon) White, Brian
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wills, Michael
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Winnick, David
Steinberg, Gerry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stevenson, George Wise, Audrey
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wood, Mike
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wray, James
Stinchcombe, Paul Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stott, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Mr. Keith Hill and
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Mr. Greg Pope.
Beggs, Roy Thompson, William
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Forsythe, Clifford
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Tellers for the Noes:
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk-b'ry) Mr. William Ross and
Robinson. Peter (Belfast E) Rev. Martin Smyth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House recognises that the Good Friday Agreement represents an historic opportunity to bring agreed government and political stability to Northern Ireland; acknowledges the progress which has been made by the British and Irish Governments and the Northern Ireland parties in reaching and implementing the Agreement; and believes the only way forward for the people of Northern Ireland to find lasting peace is for the Governments and the parties to move urgently to implement every aspect of the Agreement in full.

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the excellent decision on Pinochet, which has delighted all those who believe in the rule of international law, is the matter still sub judice? Has anything changed? If it is no longer sub judice, we would like to have the opportunity to congratulate the Home Secretary on a decision that we believe to be absolutely right.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the possibly irreparable damage that has been done to our relations with a friendly democratic country, will the Foreign Secretary come to the House and make a statement?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The matter is still sub judice and this is not the time to discuss it.