HC Deb 23 July 1998 vol 316 cc1268-310

4.4 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in page 11, leave out lines 28 and 29 and insert— '() because he is not committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means; () because he is involved in acts of violence or of preparation for violence; () because he is directing, assisting or promoting acts of violence committed or planned by other people; () because he is not committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and the achievement of the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms, by 22nd May 2000; () because he is not co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in the implementation of the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3883;'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 82, in page 11, line 29, at end insert 'or'.

No. 83, in page 11, line 31, leave out from 'office' to end of line 32.

No. 200, in page 11, line 32, after 'reason', insert '(including his association with paramilitary organisations carrying out any form of violence or intimidation, such as so—called punishment beatings)'. No. 16, in page 11, leave out lines 37 and 38 and insert 'because it is— ()not committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means; () involved in acts of violence or of preparation for violence; () directing, assisting or promoting acts of violence committed or planned by other people; ()not committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and the achievement of the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms, by 22nd May 2000; ()not co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in the implementation of the agreement reached at multi-party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3883; or'. No. 86, in page 11, line 38, leave out from 'means' to end of line 39.

No. 201, in page 11, line 39, after 'reason', insert '(including its association with paramilitary organisations carrying out any form of violence or intimidation, such as so-called punishment beatings)'. No. 17, in page 12, leave out lines 17 to 27 and insert— '(7) The Secretary of State shall serve such a notice if he believes the Minister or party concerned is—

  1. (a) not committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means;
  2. (b) involved in acts of violence or of preparation for violence;
  3. (c) directing, assisting or promoting acts of violence committed or planned by other people;
  4. (d) not committed to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations and the achievement of the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms, by 22nd May 2000; or
  5. (e) not co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in the implementation of the agreement reached at multi—party talks on Northern Ireland set out in Command Paper 3883.'.
No. 121, in page 12, line 18, leave out from 'account' to the end of line 27 and insert 'subsection (1)'.

No. 90, in page 12, line 18, leave out 'or' and insert 'concerned, the organisation to which he or his party is affiliated, or the'. No. 88, in page 12, leave out lines 24 to 27 and insert— '(d) has already decommissioned a substantial proportion of its illegally held firearms, ammunition and explosives in accordance with the provisions of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 and is fulfilling a decommissioning timetable which will ensure that it has completed decommissioning before 22nd May 2000.'. No. 89, in page 12, line 27, at end insert— '(e) has commenced the dismantling of its paramilitary structure; (f) in the opinion of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary no longer represents a threat to the community.'. No. 75, in clause 15, page 8, line 35, at end insert— '(11A) A member shall be excluded from office if he is unable to satisfy the Assembly that he is committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful means. (11B) A Northern Ireland Minister shall not take up office until a resolution, "That the member be accepted as a Minister" has been approved by the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis in accordance with section 4(5). (11C) The Assembly shall make its determination under this section based solely on the factors listed on section 23(7).'.

Mr. MacKay

I should like to put the amendment and the debate in their full context. The distinguished and important organisation Families Against Intimidation and Terror reliably informs me that, so far this year, there have been 58 republican so-called punishment attacks and beatings, and 53 loyalist punishment attacks and beatings. Therefore, we should go back and carefully examine exactly what has been said by the IRA and the loyalist paramilitary groups that have signed up to the Belfast agreement.

We are all grateful that there is a ceasefire—which is particularly welcome in the Province. However, the IRA has described it as a "cessation of military activities". What is behind that phrase? Yes, the IRA has stuck to its word, in that there are no so-called military activities, but there is absolutely no doubt that there is what it would regard as "civil activity".

Although there is absolutely no doubt in the Province or on the mainland that there are no IRA-inspired bomb attacks on military or civilians targets—such as factories and shopping centers—I deeply regret that it cannot be said that there is absolutely no doubt about other activity in many communities in the Province, in which paramilitaries are not only active but dominant. In those communities, the agreement and the so-called ceasefire mean very little.

I should repeat the figures: 58 republican punishment beatings; 53 loyalist punishment beatings. It is very difficult for hon. Members representing constituencies that have not been affected by such beatings to imagine what they really mean. I should dwell on a couple of examples.

After the agreement was signed, John Brown, a 79-year-old New Lodge resident, was dragged from his flat and shot—or knee-capped, as the phrase goes. He will never walk again. For what it is worth to those who committed the atrocity, he was not the alleged child abuser for whom they were looking—that man lived in a different flat, across the corridor, and has now left the area. Such vigilante justice is unacceptable in any society. It is a great pity that it was not condemned by Sinn Fein; commentators and residents in that part of Belfast are convinced that it was an IRA punishment beating.

More recently, a brave and distinguished peace campaigner, Vincent McKenna, was viciously attacked in south Belfast. There had been threats against him, and he knew that that would happen to him if he continued to campaign.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Does the shadow Secretary of State realise that it is possible for paramilitary groups to be controlled? It was interesting that, during the three weeks of the Assembly elections, there were no so-called punishment beatings by the IRA. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think it rather strange that that can happen when it suits the people who control the thugs and gangsters, but that when it does not suit them, such things continue?

Mr. MacKay

I entirely endorse what the hon. Lady says, and I commend the amendment in her name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley). I shall deal with that issue in a moment, because we want to be fully aware that the tap can be turned on and off very easily. Before I do so, I shall mention the latest case, which involves Andrew Kearney.

Andrew Kearney was not associated with drug running and was not a member of a paramilitary organisation, but he was dragged from his flat in north Belfast, while asleep with his two-week-old baby. He was knee-capped and left to bleed to death. His family and Families Against Intimidation and Terror have no doubt that it was an IRA punishment beating. I gather that eight men were involved, so it was not simply a casual, chance mistake. Again, I regret to say that Sinn Fein has been totally silent.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Obviously, everyone on the Labour Benches condemns those acts committed by thugs; they must be condemned by any decent person. The thugs have shown that they have no respect for the rule of law, which is not surprising.

It is important to recognise that the agreement and the Bill refer to a commitment to non-violence and to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. I mention that because, when the right hon. Gentleman began his remarks, he said that, although there had been no bomb attacks, there had been other outrages. However, the agreement makes it clear that there must be a commitment to non-violence and to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. While the amendment is useful for debating purposes, what it seeks to achieve is already provided in the Bill.

Mr. MacKay

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's comments in their entirety, but he makes a valid point. If he will excuse me, I shall come to it shortly. I want to continue dealing with the present scene and to talk about exiles.

Many hundreds of people have been intimidated into leaving not just their homes but the Province. They are still not able to return to Northern Ireland, and there has been no word from either the paramilitary parties that were represented at the talks or from Sinn Fein-IRA that will encourage them so to do. Equally, there has been no other gesture, such as the revelation of the location of the unmarked graves of some of those who have disappeared. It is only if one speaks to victims' families that one realises how important it is to know where a loved one has ended up and is buried. All of us who have read Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's report—I commend the Government on accepting it in full—will realise just how harrowing and trying that is.

I should like to quote from a letter that I received from Families Against Intimidation and Terror. The first quote relates directly to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and underlines strongly the points that she made in her intervention. It states: In the last month, we have been inundated with reports of IRA threats and harassment. In the three weeks of the Assembly Election campaign, the IRA called a complete halt to virtually all of their violent activities. They have now resumed. That vividly illustrates the point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall that the IRA can turn the tap on and off if it so wishes.

4.15 pm

In conclusion, it stated: It is the view of FAIT that IRA activity remains at an unacceptably high level for Sinn Fein to take up positions in the Government of Northern Ireland. If Sinn Fein were allowed to sit in the Executive, while IRA violence continues then many would lose a lot of confidence in the Good Friday Agreement. The Minister will be aware that that organisation strongly supports the Good Friday agreement and is a force for good in the Province that is doing a great deal of excellent work.

I make no apology for taking a little time to set out what is happening in the Province. It is all to easy for those of us with mainland constituencies, sitting here comfortably in the House of Commons, rightly supporting the Belfast agreement, rightly commending a positive vote in the referendum and rightly delighted that the people of Northern Ireland have elected themselves an Assembly that is starting to work effectively, to think complacently that all is well. That is just not so for many ordinary, decent families across the Province who, more often than not, are the poorest and most vulnerable in the community.

Our amendments seek to strengthen the Bill in a way that we believe does not in any way breach the agreement, so that members of Sinn Fein-IRA cannot take up ministerial positions unless all violence, including the so-called punishment beatings, has ceased for good and the IRA is fully complying with the decommissioning commission. It is not for the Committee, and certainly not for me as shadow Secretary of State, to say who should or should not be Ministers in the Assembly. In fact, I see positive advantages to members of Sinn Fein, now that they have gained sufficient seats in the Assembly, taking up ministerial positions and taking some responsibility. However, in a free democratic society, people can hold ministerial and Executive positions only if they have totally, completely and permanently renounced violence.

As I have already said, renouncing violence does not just mean a military cessation; it means no punishment beatings and co-operating with the decommissioning commission so that all guns and explosives are handed in within two years. I do not for a moment question the integrity of the Secretary of State or any of her foreseeable successors, but, like the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, the Bill as it stands is woolly and uncertain on that point.

The Secretary of State has only to take into account whether Sinn Fein-IRA is fully co-operating. That leaves her open to political pressure which, at a particular point, could lead to her saying, "Yes, I have taken into account that they are not decommissioning. They are still kneecapping, but there are other good reasons why I think that they should continue to be Ministers." That is too great a risk for the House to take—too great a risk for democracy. Our amendments would ensure that Sinn Fein-IRA had to show the Secretary of State and the Assembly—both rightly have responsibilities—that they had given up violence for good and were decommissioning fully.

Anyone foolish enough to suggest that Sinn Fein has nothing to do with the IRA and no influence over it need only look at what Families Against Intimidation and Terror has said and listen to the Secretary of State, who repeated on Second Reading what she has said regularly—that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked. I agree with her, as does every commentator in Northern Ireland. Any reasonable person would agree.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

The Secretary of State confirmed on Monday night that she believed that the IRA and Sinn Fein were inextricably linked. The Dublin Government hold that opinion, and I am glad that Her Majesty's Opposition hold it. The Ulster Unionists are worried that Social Democratic and Labour party Members, even when challenged on Monday night, did not confirm that they considered the IRA and Sinn Fein to be inextricably linked. Their failure to confirm that casts doubt on the role of the SDLP in the Assembly when an Executive comes to be formed.

Mr. MacKay

The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on the SDLP's policy on that or any other matter. I note that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is in his place and he may try to catch your eye later, Mr. Lord. I am sure that he will wish to answer that point.

The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) knows that we have taken every opportunity to emphasise and underline the inextricable link, which needs to repeated again and again. In fairness to the Secretary of State, she has always done the same, as have the other Ministers present today.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

We cannot make policy pronouncements on behalf of the SDLP, but is not any ambiguity in that party's position about the inextricability of the link between Sinn Fein and the IRA a matter of deep regret?

Mr. MacKay

It would be a matter of regret. I do not want to act as a pundit, commentator and armchair critic. In defence of the SDLP, many of its prominent members, including Members of Parliament, have courageously stood up to IRA intimidation in their communities. I praise the hon. Member for South Down, his parliamentary colleagues and others for what they have done. They have been braver than some of us might have been in the same circumstances.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

If the right hon. Gentleman agrees that the two are inextricably linked, how does he define the term? Does it not mean that they are one and the same and can never be separated?

Mr. MacKay

I find it difficult to speculate about whether the two will be inextricably linked for ever. That is a matter for Sinn Fein and the IRA. All that matters in this debate is that every reasonable person with any knowledge or understanding of Northern Ireland knows that, for the time being, they are inextricably linked and that Sinn Fein is responsible for the actions of the IRA. We have already illustrated that in the debate.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)


Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)


Mr. MacKay

I am not making much progress, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and then to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney).

Mr. McNamara

Clause 23(6) states: If the Secretary of State is of the opinion that the Assembly ought to consider—

  1. (a) a resolution…in relation to a Minister; or
  2. (b) a resolution…in relation to a political party".
In other words, if a party is not fully committed to peaceful and democratic means, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may bring that to the attention of the Assembly and ask the Presiding Officer to table the necessary motion. The Assembly has that same power. As the Bill implements and mirrors the agreement extremely well and covers the hon. Gentleman's points, why is he seeking to undermine the agreement, precisely as he sought to do in debates on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill? He knows perfectly well that the position of my right hon. Friend and of the Government is that stated in the Bill, which reflects precisely his points.

Mr. MacKay

If the hon. Gentleman had been slightly more patient, he would have heard me fully address that in my second and final point. I shall answer the point, although I should first give way to the hon. and learned Member for North Down, who I suspect will raise another point. When I fully answer the hon. Member for Hull, North, he will see that at no stage have we tried to undermine the agreement. We have acted as a responsible Opposition and done our job of scrutinising legislation. When we think something is wrong, we say so without fear or favour.

Mr. Robert McCartney

My point is very short and, perhaps, semantic. How can two bodies be inextricably linked "for the time being"? Inextricable means that they cannot ever be separated. What the right hon. Gentleman said is like saying that one is permanently committed to something for the time being.

Mr. MacKay

I have no intention of entering into a semantic debate with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Nothing would please him more than for me to do so; he would have a great deal of fun. I shall stick to saying that everybody believes that, at this moment and for the foreseeable future, Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked, but there could be a circumstance in future in which they might separate. Such speculation is for later and is not relevant to the debate. As this is a time-limited debate, I am not serving the Committee by pursuing that red herring.

The hon. Member for Hull, North suggests that we are in breach of the agreement. He should take that up with the Prime Minister, whose words I quoted in a previous debate on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. During Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday 6 May, the Prime Minister made it clear from the Dispatch Box that decommissioning was relevant and linked not just to the release of prisoners but to Ministers taking office. When pressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he fully confirmed that. I have no doubt that he made it clear when he went to Northern Ireland in the final days before the referendum—campaigning for a yes vote, as were my right hon. Friend and I. That was the Prime Minister's interpretation of the agreement; it is my interpretation of the agreement.

If the Minister accepts my amendment, he will not be in breach of the agreement. He will merely be following what his Prime Minister said on the Floor of the House. We all wish the Minister well in the reshuffle in the next few days. I may embarrass him by what I am about to say.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman may endanger the Minister's chances.

Mr. MacKay

Indeed, what I say may ruin the Minister's chances in the reshuffle. We have the greatest respect for the Minister's negotiating skills and his work—very much behind the scenes—throughout the run-up to the Good Friday agreement. We hope that he stays in his present post, but we should be delighted if he were further promoted.

Mr. Winnick

There was no need for the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) to apologise for describing to the Committee the acts of intimidation and violence; we have a duty to be kept informed. We are informed by reading about those acts, but we should discuss them, too, at the appropriate time, which is now.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that it is easy for us on the green Benches of the House of Commons to be somewhat isolated from what is going on. Fortunately, on the mainland we are not subjected to such acts of thuggery. None the less, as British citizens are subjected to them, it is only right that every opportunity should be given to discuss and denounce what are undoubtedly crimes.

As I said in my intervention in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, Labour Members deplore without exception all the acts that he described. However, it is important to recognise that what is written in the agreement and what is clearly set out in the Bill is a commitment to non-violence.

At the beginning of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that when we talk about violence we do not mean military action alone. I certainly agree. Of course the continuation of the ceasefire by the IRA and the loyalist groups that are observing it is welcome. That is how things should continue indefinitely; that goes without saying. However, the acts that the right hon. Gentleman described are clearly outlawed by the agreement, too.

4.30 pm

Annexe A to strand 1 contains a pledge of office that those who take up Executive positions have to take, as well as agreeing to all the other matter set out in the agreement. Item (b) of annexe A is a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful democratic means". There is no ambiguity about that. If those who take up office are in any way involved in, or support, acts such as those that the right hon. Gentleman described, under the agreement they have no right to hold that office. There is no ambiguity about that either.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

I have to dispute what the hon. Gentleman says. Nothing in the agreement prevents the representatives of paramilitary organisations from taking up ministerial office. They have to sign a pledge of office or give a commitment to a pledge of office, part of which includes a supposed commitment to peaceful means—but there is no way of testing that. We have seen in the past that Sinn Fein-IRA are prepared to sign up to the Mitchell principles and then they will drive a cart and horse through them—and there is nothing that anybody can do about it. Let people not be mistaken: Sinn Fein-IRA representatives will take ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the IRA will continue its acts of barbarism and violence.

Mr. Winnick

I am coming to the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said. He is, as he is entitled to be, totally opposed to the agreement, and he will find every possible argument and justification for trying to ensure that it is not put into practice and is not successful. I understand his point of view. I totally disagree with it, but I understand it; it comes from his particular political viewpoint.

The hon. Gentleman says that anybody can sign the pledge but that it would not mean anything. That is possible; no one denies it—but that is not the end of the matter. The hon. Gentleman said what he thought would happen, and he would have us believe that no further action would be taken—that all that anyone who is either a party to violence or involved in violence has to do is give a pledge and that is the end of the matter.

That is not so. If it were, the Committee would be right to be concerned. However, clause 23 clearly sets out that the Secretary of State will give an opinion at the appropriate time on whether the Minister or party concerned…is committed to the use now and in the future of only democratic and peaceful means to achieve his or its objectives and has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence".

Mr. Donaldson


Mr. Winnick

Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman again, let me say that it is wrong to give the impression that the pledge has only to be given and no further action will be taken. As is clearly set out both in the agreement and in the Bill, the Secretary of State has powers that no doubt she would use when it was alleged that a Minister was committed to violence.

Mr. Donaldson

My point—there is a distinction—is that the Secretary of State is not called on to give that opinion before the individual takes up ministerial office. She may give that opinion afterwards, but nothing in the Bill requires her to do so before the individual takes up office—there is no effective mechanism to prevent an individual from taking up office. I agree that the mechanism could subsequently be used to have the person removed from office, but where is the bar to someone taking up office? It certainly does not lie in the Secretary of State's hands.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman criticises the way in which someone can take up office, but he has conceded that the Bill contains appropriate safeguards and that giving a pledge is not the end of the matter for all time.

Mr. Robert McCartney

The hon. Gentleman has laid much emphasis on the safeguards relating to the exclusion from office of a person or a party involved in terror, but is he aware that, since 1 January this year, the Provisional IRA, for which Sinn Fein is a front—there will be two Sinn Fein Ministers—has shot 31 people, a number of them fatally? None of that has made the Secretary of State say, "You folk, while you continue to behave like this, will never get into the Assembly, let alone into Executive office."

Mr. Winnick

I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman was present at the most recent Northern Ireland questions, when the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that, if there was evidence that people were a party to or supported violence, she would take appropriate action. None of us knows exactly who is involved in acts of violence. The Provisional IRA may be involved, and I am no more likely to act as an apologist for that organisation than is the hon. and learned Gentleman. However, we read about breakaway groups from the IRA—

Mr. Robert McCartney

indicated dissent.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. and learned Gentleman dismisses that, as he wants us to believe that the IRA and Sinn Fein are continuing to engage in violence and that the agreement is bogus. Apart from the two Democratic Unionist party Members, no one is more opposed to the agreement than he is.

Mr. Robert McCartney


Mr. Winnick

No, I shall not give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman strenuously opposed the agreement.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman has a long and distinguished record of speaking out against terrorism and violence, and I applaud that. Splinter groups may have been committing some of the so-called military activity on the border and elsewhere, but it is equally clear from the evidence given by Families Against Intimidation and Terror, the security forces and local residents that the IRA is behind the punishment beatings. Given that, does he agree that, until those beatings well and truly stop, Sinn Fein members cannot become Ministers in the Assembly?

Mr. Winnick

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I agree that acts of violence should be condemned at every opportunity, whichever side of the sectarian divide commits them. It is part of the responsibility of the Secretary of State, as set out in the agreement and clause 23 of the Bill, to decide whether action should be taken once the Assembly is up and running and the Executive is working.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell spoke kindly about my opposition to terrorist violence, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her ministerial team are no less opposed to acts of violence. They denounce acts of violence in the same way as the right hon. Member and I do. There is no exclusive club for denouncing those acts.

We should bear in mind the fact that the purpose of the agreement is to bring about a situation in Northern Ireland that is totally unlike what has occurred in the last quarter of a century. The right hon. Member will agree with that. We want to bring about a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. In dealing with terrorist organisations—or with those who have been involved in such organisations—there is always the possibility that they could resort to acts of terror.

We are taking a gamble—no one would deny that. The difference between those of us who support the agreement and those who oppose it is that we believe that that gamble is worth taking. The ceasefire has taken place, and we have written into the proposed legislation safeguards to prevent those who are involved in violence from holding ministerial office in Northern Ireland. That is very important.

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman is never slow in giving the Committee his opinion, but he has failed to say whether he personally—in the light of compelling, overwhelming evidence that the IRA is continuing punishment beatings—would recommend that its representatives should not take office. When he says that we should take a gamble, does he mean that we should turn a blind eye to punishment beatings? If he does, that would be unfortunate and it would not match his record in the House.

Mr. Winnick

I meant that we were taking a gamble on whether the agreement will work and whether it will lead to a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. There is no guarantee that any agreement will work. Those who support the agreement take the view that it is worth taking a chance—perhaps the word "gamble" was inappropriate—to see whether non-violent means work and to ensure that those who engage in violence will no longer be accepted.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell asked me a direct question. The right answer is that, if a Secretary of State comes to the view that those involved in ministerial office in Northern Ireland are—despite their pledge of office—involved in violence or support it, they should not be involved any longer. There is no difference between us on that.

The difference is whether the amendment is necessary. It goes outside the agreement, and we should be careful that we legislate precisely for what the agreement stands for. If we are against those holding ministerial office being involved in violence, that is right and proper, because such people would be breaking the agreement. Therefore, in giving every opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to have a chance to live in peace, like the rest of us on the mainland, our responsibility is to legislate along the lines of the agreement—word for word, to a large extent. The amendment is unnecessary, because the safeguards already exist.

Our detestation of violence—which the right hon. Member for Bracknell stated—is written into the agreement and the Bill. We should proceed on the basis of the Bill.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

As the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and others have said, the entire process has been based on the fundamental principle that there must be a commitment to peace and democracy. That is the objective of the process—to put in place provisions that fill the democratic deficit that has existed in Northern Ireland for far too long, and to do so on the basis of peace. That has been the objective throughout.

In some aspects, we have been travelling in hope, rather than having a sound basis at every turn—particularly in terms of violence. However, travelling in hope is one thing; engaging in wishful thinking is another. We need to distinguish between the two. I disagreed with the use of the term "gamble" by the hon. Member for Walsall, North. I do not like to think that we are gambling with the security of a society and with the peace, livelihoods and lives of people. It may be necessary occasionally to take risks, but those should be carefully calculated and we should be careful of the threats involved.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) referred to some of the appalling acts of violence in recent weeks. I will not labour the point with regard to them, except to underline some aspects which relate to the Bill. Those acts of violence are not the only ones; there have been others which we abhor and condemn. I would not want anyone to run away with the notion that, because we are focusing, for the purpose of this debate, on the actions of certain paramilitaries—particularly republican paramilitaries—we have forgotten other acts.

4.45 pm

Cases have been mentioned which occurred over the last weekend, including the attack on Vincent McKenna. The key point is that Mr. McKenna—a former republican activist who knows who he is dealing with in the area—said to journalists afterwards that he recognised among his assailants two leading members of the IRA in the lower Ormeau area. That is clearly evidence.

Then, there was the attack on Mr. Kearney, which resulted in his death. As the right hon. Member for Bracknell pointed out, the number of people involved and the circumstances show that that was not just a casual matter, but involved an organisation. We should bear it in mind that Mr. Kearney considered himself under threat, to such an extent that his mother went to Sinn Fein some time ago and received an assurance from Sinn Fein that her son would be safe. However, after that, he got into another row with a godfather in west Belfast.

It is interesting that RUC officers are saying privately that Mr. Kearney's killing has all the fingerprints of the IRA—a term which I am sure is used metaphorically. That underlines what is obvious to anyone familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland. Those things happening in certain places, at certain times and in certain circumstances give rise to strong presumptions, which point in a particular way.

There was a case in Downpatrick a couple of weeks ago—in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady)—in which an attack was carried out by, we believe, the IRA. The victim was shot six times in the legs and once in the back, aiming for the spine—what the IRA call a 50-50 job, as it gives the person a 50 per cent. chance of survival.

There was also the mortar attack in Newry. In Newry, the local council chairman is a Sinn Fein councillor. The mortar attack was claimed on behalf of persons close to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, which is described as a republican dissident organisation. The Sinn Fein council chairman refused to condemn the attack when challenged to do so—he merely wished that those involved would stop it. We need something stronger than that.

A month or two ago, some hints appeared from Sinn Fein that it might finally be about to face up to its responsibilities—because Sinn Fein has responsibilities also. Hints were dropped by the leader in the Maze prison that the IRA might contemplate decommissioning their weapons at some point. At around the same time, leading members of Sinn Fein were briefing the press that they would deal with the issue of the disappeared. We were told that there would be an announcement soon, when they would reveal the whereabouts of those who have disappeared—believed kidnapped by the IRA, and murdered—over the past 20 years. Those hints were given in briefings to the press by senior members of Sinn Fein. They created the expectation that they were going to face up to their responsibilities.

Since then, the tempo of incidents stemming from dissident republicans has increased. Although they are rightly described as such, we cannot forget that the person close to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee who is believed to be directing operations is a former IRA chief of staff, who has access to IRA material and is believed to have received assistance from members of the IRA. The increased tempo of operations gives rise to suspicions.

Mr. Winnick

As I said, it may well be that the IRA—what we would usually refer to as the Provisional IRA—is responsible, and we know what action needs to be taken in such circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman referred to dissident IRA groups. Is it not interesting that those groups, who totally oppose the agreement—so much for the claim among Unionists that what has happened is a victory for the IRA—have undoubtedly carried out other acts of thuggery, if not those particular incidents, because they want to discredit the agreement as much as possible and to destroy it? They view it as a betrayal of the original intention to bring about a united Ireland.

Mr. Trimble

The hon. Gentleman is certainly accurate with regard to some groups—for example, members of Republican Sinn Fein, which has existed for a long time, who have throughout predicted that the current leadership of the republican movement would sell them out. Continuity IRA is linked to that group, so the hon. Gentleman's comments were appropriate in that regard.

The situation is murky when it comes to the group that is close to the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, which is a more recent development. Although a small number of people are known adherents, there is good reason to suspect that they are receiving practical assistance from members of the mainstream IRA. It is also believed that they have connections with people in the Belfast area who are still prominent in the current leadership of the mainstream IRA. The situation is not clear-cut.

We do not know all the ins and outs of the operations of the republican movement. Assuming that there are hawks and doves within that movement is a common mistake. There are no doves within that organisation, just hawks and fiercer hawks—I think that that is the best description. There is certainly jockeying for position within the organisation, and there may well have been a shift in emphasis as regards its objectives, but we do not know. We can only consider the circumstances, and I have been focusing on recent events, pointing out that the tempo of the operations of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee seems to have increased, which is a concern, particularly as we suspect linkages with and assistance from the mainstream IRA.

The leadership—or professed leadership—of the republican movement has not behaved responsibly in recent weeks. I am thinking in particular of the behaviour of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness), who was returned to serve that constituency but has not carried out his obligations in that respect. During the recent difficulties, he made a highly publicised visit to the Garvaghy road, not to render assistance or reduce the temperature but to increase it and wind the situation up at the beginning of the weekend of 12 July. No doubt he did so in the hope of inciting loyalists there to further violence. I am sure from his behaviour, demeanour and what he said that that was his intention, and that too shows where the republican movement may be at present, as do the beatings and killings, to which we have already referred.

On Second Reading on Monday, I referred to clause 23, in particular clause 23(2), pointing out that, although there may be some doubt about whether clause 23(1), which refers to individuals, could operate before people took up office, no such doubt can exist with regard to subsection (2), which refers to a "party". That subsection would make it perfectly possible for the Assembly to declare, prior to any individual taking up office, that it lacked confidence in the commitment to peace and democracy of a political party. In such a situation, one should be focusing on the party and not the individual.

I believe that at least one Sinn Fein representative in the Assembly has not been an active terrorist—or at least I have been told so by journalists, and I occasionally respect what they say, although I have no other basis for the belief. I think that there is only one such representative, although there may be more. It is important to focus on the party and, given the characteristics of the organisation concerned, it would be appropriate to proceed against the party as a whole and record a lack of confidence.

As things stand, neither I nor anyone else who looks at the circumstances honestly and clearly can say that we have confidence in the commitment of Sinn Fein-IRA to peaceful means and the democratic process.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

What does the right hon. Gentleman imagine would be the impact of the amendments if there turned out to be a split within Sinn Fein, or any organisation involved in the Northern Ireland political environment, with one side committed to democratic progress and the other willing to embark on violence? Would the amendments not make it more difficult for the pro-democrats to win, and would they not be more likely to lose to others who are not committed to progress?

Mr. Trimble

I caution the hon. Gentleman against too quickly coming to the conclusion that there are hawks and doves within the republican movement and that it embraces people who genuinely want to move to a democratic process. I do not exclude the possibility of people changing, but we need evidence of that. We can only proceed on the evidence that is there, and the events of the past few weeks seem to show that that is pointing one way. We must take account of that fact.

I referred to the debate on Monday. I was particularly pleased at the comments of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who concluded: We stand by that agreement in all its manifestations, in its entirety and its integrity."—[Official Report, 20 July 1998; Vol. 316, c. 839.] We should reflect on that final word. It is essential not only that we maintain the entirety of the agreement, of course, but that we maintain its integrity. Fundamental to the agreement is the commitment to peaceful means and the democratic process.

The Conservative amendment departs from the terminology that the Government have used in clause 23(7). There are arguments both ways. There are three main differences between the amendment and subsection (7).

The Bill directs the Secretary of State to "take into account" various factors. "Take into account" may be a weak formulation. The Bill says: the Secretary of State shall in particular take into account the factors listed. The amendment uses the term "if he believes". I am not sure that that is any stronger. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

The amendment refers to the commitment in the agreement to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by 22 May 2000. That may be bold, but the agreement clearly states a two-year time scale, running from 28 May. That part of the amendment would amplify, rather than change, the agreement, which would be a benefit.

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The insertion of the word "assisting" in paragraph (c), so that it reads directing, assisting or promoting acts violence committed or planned by other people", could also be beneficial. That paragraph is directed towards terrorism conducted by proxy, and the terminology in the amendment would be preferable.

The best amendments in terms of terminology are Nos. 200 and 201, because they make express reference to the "so-called punishment beatings". I appreciate the fact that those amendments are starred and cannot be made today, but I hope that the Government will consider them carefully on Report or in another place. I strongly support that appropriate change.

It has been said that, at the end of the day, it is for the Assembly to decide whether the exclusion provisions will operate. I understand the reasons for the concern that the system may not operate as it should. The first sentence in the relevant paragraph in the agreement says: An individual may be removed from office following a decision of the Assembly taken on a cross-community basis, if (s)he loses the confidence of the Assembly…for failure to meet his or her responsibilities including…those set out in the Pledge of Office. The second sentence is of a somewhat different character: Those who hold office should use only democratic, non-violent means, and those who do not should be excluded or removed from office under these provisions. That sentence takes a much more peremptory approach. That is why I tabled amendment No. 115, which would move matters from being purely for the Assembly to decide, and would state the basic principles under which a person would not be entitled to hold office. That would be entirely within the letter and spirit of the second sentence in the paragraph and would make the matter justiciable, taking it out of the sole purview of the Assembly and allowing it to come before the courts.

Some may say that such matters would be difficult to prove in court, but being civil matters they would have to be proven only on the balance of probabilities. Some may apply extremely high standards and may not be convinced even by evidence that most reasonable men would regard as proving a case beyond reasonable doubt, so there may be some value in the balance of probabilities being sufficient.

It is essential to have the power to exclude those who are not committed to peaceful means and the democratic process. We have operated in the hope that people will move to a clear, unequivocal commitment to peace and democracy, and the talks process, the agreement and the Assembly have offered the opportunity to participate—that is the carrot that is held out—to people who may wish to move along the path to peace, but it is essential to retain the sanction against those who are not so moving, and especially those who think that they can take the benefit of the agreement without excepting the obligations that go with it.

Exclusion of Sinn Fein, for example, would not be the end of the Assembly. In case anyone has misinterpreted what we have said, let me underline the fact that we are not following an agenda of exclusion. At the Assembly's first meeting, I said that we had never said that, because a person has a past, he cannot have a future.

We recognise that it is possible for people to change. We have seen it happen, not only with people but with organisations that were once involved in paramilitary activity and have emancipated themselves from it. I am thinking, obviously, of the official IRA—official Sinn Fein—which has moved over the years so that it is now in the democratic left, and clearly committed to peace and democracy. We trust that the same path is followed by some parties that were formerly involved in loyalist paramilitarism.

We want such change to occur. We want people to commit themselves unequivocally to peace and democracy, but we must say to them, with all the emphasis that we can muster, that they must indeed reform themselves, and that, if they do not, we will not be deceived by a few soft words and will insist on a course of conduct that is consistent with the changes that are necessary. As the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said, it is essential to maintain not only the entirety, but the integrity of the agreement.

Kate Hoey

I know that amendments Nos. 200 and 201 cannot be voted on, but I hope that the Minister will consider how they may be introduced at a different stage.

What the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said about the integrity of the peace settlement is absolutely crucial. I campaigned for a yes vote in Northern Ireland, and I was absolutely delighted at the result, but I know from personal experience that the vote was finely balance a right up to the last, and the result looked extremely dodgy—to use a perhaps unparliamentary term—in the final week.

People had a desperate desire for peace. They wanted a coming together, and to feel that they could work with people from different communities. Underlying their hopes, however, was fear that paramilitary groups on both sides did not mean what they said. Parliament owes it to those who were influenced by the feeling that they wanted peace above all to make sure that the Bill does everything possible to act on fear of continued violence and fear that people are not committed to the democratic road.

The terminology of clause 23 is vital. I cannot see why the Minister cannot accept amendment No. 15. Decommissioning must be mentioned somewhere in the Bill. It was mentioned in the agreement, and it played a great part in the last few days of the referendum campaign.

Mr. Robert McCartney

The hon. Lady emphasises how fragile the vote was right up to the last moment. Does she agree that the Prime Minister's pledges on Thursday 21 May on the release of prisoners and on whether Sinn Fein could sit down in government without decommissioning allayed the fears of many of those who ultimately voted yes?

Kate Hoey

The hon. and learned Gentleman pre-empts me. I was going to say how important the Prime Minister's words were. My right hon. Friend made it clear that Ministers in the Government must be committed to peaceful means. He did not give a commitment that his every word would be in the Bill, but there is no doubt that the people of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, felt that that was what their Prime Minister meant. How his words are implemented is up to Parliament.

Clause 23(1)(c) includes the incredibly wide ranging definition, "for any other reason". Given that definition, I cannot understand why the Bill cannot include a reference to not co-operating fully with any Commission", which would send out the straightforward message that we mean what we say about decommissioning. I mean it—and I hope that the rest of Parliament means it—when I say that decommissioning must happen. I do not say that every armament must be handed over, but parties and Ministers must make a commitment to co-operate with the commission.

Families Against Intimidation and Terror is a well respected organisation. Its development officer, Glyn Roberts, has done an enormous amount of work, just as her predecessor did. FAIT works within the community where some of the worst atrocities are happening. It is that sharp end of day-to-day experiences that those of us who represent constituencies in the rest of the United Kingdom cannot possibly understand. Although I come from Northern Ireland, and go home there regularly, I never feel able to talk about what it is like to live on the peace line in north Belfast, or to live in places where there is intimidation, fear and a threat of violence that might affect one's own family, children or parents.

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FAIT does not speak without thinking, so I am worried by the fact that it has said clearly that the level of IRA activity is so unacceptably high that Sinn Fein cannot take positions in the Government of Northern Ireland. Horrific events over the past few weeks include the Vincent McKenna incident and the killing of Mr. Kearney, which are both being investigated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. If, at the end of the investigations, there is categorical proof that Mr. Kearney was killed by members of the IRA, will that mean, even at this stage, that representatives of Sinn Fein cannot sit down in Government in the new Assembly?

It is all very well to talk in parliamentary language, but the people of Northern Ireland want to know what proof is required to demonstrate that the IRA or the paramilitaries on the so-called loyalist side are still engaging in terrible actions. If we can prove that only breakaway groups on either side are conducting those actions, those groups must be chased by the authorities. However, there is a real possibility that, in our desperation to make the agreement work, to make the Assembly work and to bring about reconciliation, we will continue always to give the benefit of the doubt to the terrorists. The Minister must reassure us that that simply will not happen.

Why is it impossible to accept the amendments tabled by the First Minister of the Assembly? It is right that we are passing the Bill as quickly as we can, but we must not forget how much time we spent on similar legislation for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. Some of my hon. Friends have shown irritation at anyone who wants to question parts of the Bill. They seem to have the idea that, since the agreement has happened, we should all just pass the Bill. That is not what Parliament is for. We must get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as we can, but reasonable people must be allowed to ask reasonable questions. We should try to learn from those who live in Northern Ireland, and who know what is happening there. That is why the Minister should ensure that action is taken against those involved in the so-called punishment beatings, intimidation and terror that happen in Northern Ireland every day—although, strangely enough, they all stopped during the Assembly elections. The people of Northern Ireland must be treated with the same dignity that we expect for our constituents.

Mr. Peter Robinson

The way in which we deal with clause 23 will determine the extent to which the Assembly is likely to function properly. I want to deal with the deceit and hypocrisy surrounding dealings before, during and after the referendum on issues central to clause 23.

First, I should say to the Minister that, for the most part, I regard the references in clause 23 as a faithful representation of what is outlined in the agreement. It contains some excesses and we have tabled amendments to deal with those excesses, which principally relate to clause 23(1)(c). For the greater part, the clause puts into legislative form the commitments made in paragraph 25 of the Belfast agreement.

When I read that agreement and interpreted it, I, like many of my colleagues, concluded that it meant precisely what the Minister and the drafting staff have put into the Bill. We went up and down the country warning the people of Northern Ireland that, if the measure was passed by the House of Commons and given support in a referendum, Sinn Fein would automatically have representation in Government and there would be no effective way of removing its representatives from Government. Therefore, whoever else in the Committee might be surprised when they see in bold relief the terminology used in clause 23, no one among my colleagues will be in the least surprised at its impact.

Paragraph 25 of the agreement states: An individual may be removed from office following a decision of the Assembly taken on a cross-community basis, if (s)he loses the confidence of the Assembly, voting on a cross-community basis, for failure to meet his or her responsibilities including, inter alia, those set out in the Pledge of Office. I shall come to the remaining part of that paragraph later, having reached a very different conclusion from the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman says that he and his colleagues did everything they could to warn the electorate in Northern Ireland about the agreement, yet, despite that warning, the people of Northern Ireland by an overwhelming majority decided to support the agreement. Should we not follow the large majority in Northern Ireland who made that decision in a democratic way?

Mr. Robinson

I shall come in a moment or two to the reason why people in Northern Ireland voted for the agreement in the numbers that they did in the referendum. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the speech made by his hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), he would have heard about some of the issues that led the people of Northern Ireland to vote in the way that they did.

During the referendum campaign, when my colleagues and I held meetings up and down the Province and indicated our understanding of the agreement and what it would mean, there were voices that said, "That is rubbish. Don't listen to these men—they are misleading you. We shall be able to control whether Sinn Fein-IRA get into an Executive. The Unionists themselves will be able to control that matter." That was a commitment given to the people by the Ulster Unionist party.

The Belfast News Letter of Saturday 9 May carried an article under the heading "Unionists must go forward with confidence in themselves". The article consisted of Mervyn Pauley interviewing the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. In that interview, the right hon. Gentleman said: I think the unionist community has confidence in itself. We have the capacity ourselves to exclude Sinn Fein from office, if we so wish, because we are going to have a majority in the Assembly, now that is clearly going to be the case. Why then should people worry what an Assembly will do if they are going to have the majority in it? The Agreement itself is absolutely clear that only people who have a genuine commitment to peaceful means and a democratic process can accept office. Those words were fudged in the past but they were fudged by governments. It's not going to be a question for Government in the future, it's going to be a question for the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives. The words were clear. The right hon. Gentleman said, and I repeat: We have the capacity ourselves to exclude Sinn Fein from office. The "we" is defined as the Unionist community.

Having made the challenge on Second Reading, I make it again: where in the Bill—or, indeed, the agreement—will the Unionist community have the capacity to exclude Sinn Fein from Government? Clearly, it cannot be done. The people of Northern Ireland were deceived by the right hon. Gentleman on that vital issue.

However, the right hon. Gentleman was not the only one who made remarks of that sort. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom had received opinion polls and reports from focus groups, all of which showed him that, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, support was moving away from the yes campaign; and that the arguments of the no campaign that Sinn Fein would be in government and could not be removed from government were beginning to hold sway in the Province. Something had to be done, and the Prime Minister took control of the yes campaign in Northern Ireland. His office almost moved to Northern Ireland, and it was his spin doctors who started working in the Province.

What did the Prime Minister have to say to the people of Northern Ireland on this vital issue? I quote from the Belfast News Letter of 14 May the Prime Minister's words: People need to know that, if they are sitting down in the room of the executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly with other people then they are not sitting there with the guns under the table, outside the door and all the rest of it… That can't happen and we must make it absolutely clear that that can't happen. Of course, under the Bill, it will happen. Under the Bill, there is nothing to stop it happening.

The Prime Minister came to Balmoral. It is remarkable that he came all that distance to that function apparently primarily to convince an individual who was not at Balmoral, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). During the speech he made there, he listed a series of factors that were crucial to the question whether the terms and spirit of the agreement were being met by the participants. Throughout, there were clear indications that the Prime Minister was speaking to the people of Northern Ireland and telling them, "Don't worry about these issues. When it comes to the legislative process, I'll take care of it." That is what the people were led to believe—that the Prime Minister had it all in hand.

However, still the people were not entirely convinced, and the Prime Minister had to make another journey to Northern Ireland. On large billboard posters in handwriting, he signed five pledges to the people of Northern Ireland, one of which was to exclude from the Government of Northern Ireland those who would use or threaten violence. Again, under the Bill, there is no provision for such people to be excluded from Government, save if they themselves are not prepared to accept the pledge of office, or if the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady)and his party decide that they want them to be excluded. [Interruption.] From what has been said, there can be little doubt about that, and I can almost guarantee support from the Unionist-designated Members of the Assembly.

If the hon. Member for South Down would like me to give way so that he can state that, on the basis of what he knows today—based simply on the cases of Vincent McKenna and Andrew Kearney—he recognises the involvement of Sinn Fein-IRA in the killing and beating and that they have breached the conditions set down in the Bill, I shall give way. If he wants to tell me that, on that basis, he would be prepared to have them excluded or removed from office, I shall give way to him. The hon. Gentleman does not want me to give way, which is telling.

As the spokesman for the official Opposition, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said, the Prime Minister made, in this House, the clearest possible statement demonstrating that he wanted substantial decommissioning before Sinn Fein could enjoy the benefits of prison releases or its presence in the Government of Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister had earlier written to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann: I understand your problem with paragraph 25 of Strand 1 is that it requires decisions on those who should be excluded or removed from office in the Northern Ireland Executive to be taken on a cross-community basis. This letter is to let you know that if, during the course of the first six months of the shadow Assembly or the Assembly itself, these provisions have been shown to be ineffective, we will support changes to these provisions to enable them to be made properly effective in preventing such people from holding office. 5.30 pm

To the casual reader, the uninitiated and the layman, that letter might seem to provide a guarantee from the Prime Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to take it as such. However, the more careful reader will have noted the use of the word "support". The letter said, we will support changes to these provisions". It does not say that the Prime Minister is committed to changes to the provisions; it says simply that he will support changes.

The Prime Minister had to use the word "support" because it is not up to him, or even the House, to make that determination. He uses that word because he recognises that there are others whose support is also required. They are those who signed up to the Belfast Agreement on 10 April. It is a multi-party agreement and cannot be unilaterally changed, which is why the Prime Minister did not give a commitment unilaterally to change it. He said that he would simply be one of those who supported changes if the provisions did not meet the requirements of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann.

Will the Minister confirm or deny my interpretation of the Prime Minister's letter? Will he, in responding to the debate, make it clear that the support referred to in the letter would be provided along with the support of others, or are the Prime Minister and Government prepared to introduce legislation to change the provisions of the Bill if it does not prove to be effective? I suspect that my initial interpretation of the letter is accurate, and that the Prime Minister has no intention of acting unilaterally.

I find it difficult to accept the amount of hypocrisy on this subject. I find it difficult to listen to Members telling the House or the Committee how they need to make changes to the Bill when they accepted its provisions in the first place. If those provisions are not good enough, why did they sign up to them on 10 April? If these matters needed to be dealt with, why did they not include them on 10 April before they signed? They signed up to the agreement, including the provisions that the Committee is now discussing. Not only that—in the opening part of the agreement, they pledged to work in good faith to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement. Having made that pledge, they now, at least publicly, state that they are seeking to have the arrangements improved beyond the agreement's initial provisions.

More than that, those people went out and sold the agreement to the electorate in Northern Ireland. Now the right hon. Member for Upper Bann has profited by becoming the First Minister designate in Northern Ireland. While his amendment—and the Tory amendment—would slightly strengthen the terminology in the Bill, and to that extent would be welcome, it is unworkable. Even though the wording in various subsections might be tightened, the responsibility would still fall on the Assembly, in a cross-community vote. A political decision will therefore be made. A decision will be made by nationalists about whether they will ditch Sinn Fein. Even if every Unionist in the Assembly and an overwhelming majority of Assembly Members voted for the exclusion of Sinn Fein, its Members would remain in the Executive unless the SDLP voted to exclude them.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the agreement and the Bill to give effect to it are the product of the Hume-Adams agreement in 1993, and that it is certain that the SDLP will never move to have its partner, Sinn Fein, removed from the Assembly?

Mr. Robinson

I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. Nobody labours under the assumption that SDLP Members will wake up one morning and decide that it is time to exclude Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness from the Assembly. No matter what they do, that will not happen. It is therefore necessary for the Government to include in the Bill a mechanism whereby they can be excluded which does not require consensus in the Assembly. The amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends would have had that effect. They would have turned the situation around and required Sinn Fein Members to get a cross-community vote to remain in office.

I cannot speak to those amendments, Nos. 80 and 81, because unfortunately they were not selected. Strangely, however, much of their substance is included in amendment No. 75, which was selected, even though it relates to clause 15, not clause 23. I am sure that it would have been better if the Chairman of Ways and Means had selected amendments Nos. 80 and 81 instead of amendment No. 75. I can, however, discuss the principle because it is the same in each case—and, as I know that the Government will not readily accept any of the amendments, it will probably make no practical difference in the end.

Our amendment would have put the onus on Sinn Fein-IRA to convince the Assembly, rather than the other way round. The Committee needs to deal with that matter. It is not good enough for the Government to hope that things might turn out all right on the day. The killing of Andrew Kearney was clearly carried out by the Provisional IRA. Nobody but the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) seems to be in any doubt about that. The RUC, the newspapers and the family recognise that the killing was carried out by the IRA. On that basis, I am entitled to ask what would happen if we were in the Assembly today, making a decision about the exclusion of Sinn Fein-IRA. I do not need to ask, because I know.

Exactly the same criteria apply with regard to the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. Has anyone heard the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland make a statement to the effect that, because of the killing of Mr. Kearney by the Provisional IRA, its prisoners will not be released because the killing was a breach of the provisions of that Bill?

There was an attempt to kill the well-known bomber republican—but now "peace activist"—Mr. Vincent McKenna. He identified among his assailants well-known members of the battalion from the Ormeau road of the Provisional IRA. There could not be better evidence; but the Secretary of State and others continue to bury their head in the sand, and will not take action. The Secretary of State is required to take action now on that issue, not simply as a result of the Bill, but on the basis of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. If she is not prepared to operate on the basis of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, she will not operate on the basis of the provision that we are debating.

Let no one therefore rely on the third of the three mechanisms for dealing with this matter—the mechanism whereby the Secretary of State, considering that someone has breached the provisions of the Act, asks the Presiding Officer to have the matter dealt with by way of a resolution. That will be the slowest of the mechanisms, and the least likely to be used. Even if it was used, the decision as to whether that person was expelled would not be for the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can only have the matter referred to the Presiding Officer and, through the Presiding Officer, to the Assembly. Ultimately, the decision—once again—will be a political decision; a decision which will fall when the hands of the SDLP refuse to co-operate to have their colleagues in Sinn Fein expelled from the Executive.

The sad reality, therefore, is that this is an unworkable provision. It is a facade, a pretence and a deceit. The Committee should not support such hypocrisy.

Mr. McGrady

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the debate, Mr. Lord.

The right hon. Members for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) have given a series of vivid descriptions of the violence that continues to be perpetrated in our community. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said that those of us who live in Northern Ireland have greater personal experience of the tragedy of that violence. I have visited the scenes of murders by both loyalist and republican paramilitaries and their offshoots—whatever name they may use—seen the bodies, and visited those maimed and the families of victims. I have seen those things within miles of my home and throughout my constituency.

One of the major driving forces behind the Belfast agreement is the desire to eradicate from our community that type of violence. The second is the desire to set up structures by which we shall be better governed in ways that affect the economic and social aspects of life, our standard of living and our way of life. In my view, those two main pillars have been the thrust of the agreement, and they are the reason why it is so important that it is sustained against the onslaught of those who oppose it for their own moral, political, party or personal purposes.

No one ever pretended that, on a given day, at midnight, a key could be turned by which the violence of a quarter of a century would be immediately turned off. Any sensible person knows, and would anticipate, that elements of violence would continue, sometimes perhaps orchestrated, sometimes individually perpetrated. We could not have come through 25 or 30 years of the most extreme form of personal violence without being left with a legacy in the shape of those who, having perpetrated acts of violence, are conditioned to do the same again when they are thwarted by events.

I fear that, in a debate such as this, personal vendettas and grudge bearing, both of which exist, and inter-paramilitary strife—which exists, and has expressed itself in violence from time to time—may be seen as a reason to topple the very delicate series of structures that the two communities have put together and approved. It is important that we do not play party politics with every incident that occurs and every act of violence that is perpetrated in our community. Such incidents will happen, but we must be assured that violence in all organised aspects ceases forthwith, and that the ceasefires that were laid on the table before the agreement was signed are sustained and continued.

5.45 pm

We have heard the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and others talk about Sinn Fein being debarred because it is inextricably linked with the IRA. My understanding is that Sinn Fein can be barred only if it is inextricably linked with the IRA, which is organisationally continuing to perpetrate violence. That is entirely different from what has been said. Much of the debate, especially from the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), has not been—

Mr. John D. Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McGrady

I will not give way.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my name.

Mr. McGrady

I am sorry; I did mention the right hon. Gentleman's name. I give way.

Mr. Taylor

As I pointed out earlier in the week and today, Her Majesty's Opposition, the Secretary of State and the Dublin Government have all said that the IRA is inextricably linked with Sinn Fein. Will the SDLP say the same?

Mr. McGrady

I regret that I made a mistake in mentioning the right hon. Gentleman. Although I shall reply to his question, I was referring to what the right hon. Member for Strangford said—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is the right hon. Member for Strangford."] I am sorry; I meant the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), who made much of the semantics of the words "inextricably linked" and made the point that it is not a bar to holding office for a political party to be inextricably linked to a paramilitary organisation, be it republican or loyalist. However, the party would be debarred if that paramilitary element continued violence, and broke the ceasefires that it subscribed to.

The hon. and learned Member for North Down argued that we must be careful not to interpret individual acts of violence—which we must have, unfortunately, as a hangover of 25 or 30 years of violence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Must?"] I say "must" in the logical sense that such acts are going to happen. People have been desensitised to many of the norms of group behaviour and many aspects of observance of the law. We shall be unable to re-establish the validity of good conduct throughout our community—at least to the level of communities that have not had the violence that we have had—until we have had a time of peace, a time of working together and an opportunity to produce, for the benefit of the people, some of the fruits of that work.

Many contributions to the debate have been attacks on other parties, such as the Ulster Unionist party—the favourite target of the hon. Member for Belfast, East, for obvious reasons. I remind the Committee that the Democratic Unionist party and the United Kingdom Unionist party withdrew from the talks many months before the agreement was signed. It ill behoves them now to criticise other people who signed the agreement, when they did not even engage in it. Why criticise it now? Why were they not there, criticising, and making the amendments that they are advocating today?

On, I think, Monday night and again earlier this evening, the hon. Member for Strangford—the right hon. Member for Strangford; I have the nomenclature right on this occasion—challenged me, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, East, on the attitude of the SDLP. Let me make it clear, as I did on Monday night, although I do not think that the right hon. Member for Strangford was in his place at the time, that we will subscribe totally and completely to the letter and spirit of the agreement that we have signed up to.

That means, and I cannot state it any clearer, that any party—of course, they refer only to Sinn Fein—who is engaged in violence for the furtherance of a political purpose will not receive our support for office in that Assembly. Can anything be clearer than that?

Mr. John D. Taylor

The more the hon. Gentleman gets involved in this subject, the more he convinces me that one should vote against the Bill. Will he repeat what the Secretary of State has said—that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked? I am not asking him to condemn violence or to run away from the subject. Will he just answer that one question: are they inextricably linked?

Mr. McGrady

I have no hesitation in subscribing to that view. My party leader said many, many months ago that the IRA and Sinn Fein were one and the same. He said it publicly. What is the mystery? Why has it been brought up now? The right hon. Member for Strangford Gentleman certainly prevaricates in a mischievous way, one day supporting the agreement, the next day opposing it by innuendo, but perhaps he will settle down some time and be either committed to it or against it.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not a fact that, since the terror campaign begun by the IRA, the SDLP has been, almost on every occasion, totally opposed to those terrorist activities? Have not SDLP activists in Northern Ireland been targeted time and again, and has not the record of my hon. Friend's party been, from the beginning, one of total commitment to constitutional democratic politics and total opposition to terrorism?

Mr. McGrady

I thank the hon. Member for his helpful and supportive intervention. I did not say that in response to the criticisms from the other side of the Committee, simply because it is a fact that is well known and does not require constant repetition from me or any other member of my party. We have had members who have been killed, blown up, maimed, assaulted, burned out or stabbed to death. We have never, by word, deed, policy or statement, on any occasion encouraged or supported violence. In fact, our total stance for 25 or 30 years has been to fight it, not just in the media, but on the streets of our communities and villages and at election times, when we did it time and again.

When most other people were keeping their heads below the parapet, it was my party that kept faith with democracy and non-violence. In the long run, although it is now criticised for some reason, that led other people who were engaged in violence out of that violence and into the democratic process, in the hope that we could eradicate that violence once and for all from our community.

That is what this Belfast Good Friday agreement is about. As I said, one of the twin pillars is to ensure that violence and the gun are taken out of Irish politics once and for all, after hundreds of years of revolution, rebellion and violence. That other pillar is to promote the economic and social well-being of our people, because they do go hand in hand: we cannot have one without the other.

However, I warn the Committee not to expect that, in the community that we have created, if you like, in Northern Ireland over the past 30 years of violence, intolerance and desensitising to the horrors of violence, we can magically at 12 o'clock on some appointed day turn off all violence. I would love that to happen, but I am not so stupid as to believe it will. That is why we have to be careful not unnecessarily to drive people who have been cajoled, coaxed and brought from violence to peace, back into violence. That is vital.

I say to the Committee again, so that I will not be asked the question again, that my party and I will support the Belfast agreement to the letter and spirit of the law. If any party is associated with violence, we will dissociate from it in relation to participation in ministerial position.

I could extrapolate on this, but I do not want to. We have a phrase in Northern Ireland: "what aboutery". One person says one thing, and another comes back by way of argument with, "What about…?" I could refer to Drumcree, and politicians who were there.

Violence occurred at Drumcree. A machine gun was used against the police at Drumcree. Blast bombs and steel darts were used. I was not there, but certainly other Members of this House were. Are they associated with that violence? I am not going to make that judgment. I am going to have to wait for the judgment of the police, security forces and the rest as to whether a party is inextricably linked with an act of violence, not with an organisation of violence. Then, rightly, the agreement, in spirit and law, must be applied.

The amendment is restrictive, because the simple language already in the Bill is all-embracing and does reflect, as the hon. Member for Belfast, East and the right hon. Member for Bracknell have quoted, paragraph 25 of the agreement, which states: Those who hold office should use only democratic, non-violent means". That is all-embracing, and that is what the Bill is saying. In fact, the agreement goes much further, and makes it a condition of office that the pledge of office be faithfully and fully implemented.

The Bill goes even further, which causes me concern, although I have not tabled an amendment on it. It states that the Assembly may resolve that a Minister no longer enjoys the confidence of the Assembly "for any other reason". That is all-embracing for persons or parties. I draw the Committee's attention to clause 23, which says that individuals can be debarred not only for their personal act, but for the acts of their party. That is clearly stated. That has not been highlighted in some of the debate that we have had so far.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East said that he went up and down Northern Ireland saying that Sinn Fein, as he said, although I am sure that he meant anyone else, could not be removed from office if its members were found to be guilty of participation and association with an act of violence. Clause 23 clearly states that there are several mechanisms by which they can be removed—by the Assembly, by the Secretary of State and by the Presiding Officer, with cross-community support. There are at least three mechanisms by which a Minister can be removed from office.

Mr. Robert McCartney

I think that the hon. Gentleman misquotes the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who is not in his place. The hon. Member said that the Unionist community could not have those people either excluded or removed from office because of the requirement for cross-community consensus. If that cross-community consensus were not made available by the SDLP, they would remain. That is the point he made.

Mr. McGrady

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes his valid point. I heard what I heard, but I am subject to that correction. I will certainly read Hansard in the morning, because it was said on two different occasions this evening. On one occasion, it was certainly said that, if these people are put in office, they cannot be removed. There was no qualification as to by whom and by what mechanism.

Ministers who are appointed and who contravene the spirit and the law of the Belfast agreement can be removed under clause 23 by the Assembly, by the Presiding Officer, and by the Secretary of State acting through the Presiding Officer. Those are three clear mechanisms and they can be brought into operation by saying that those persons did not use only democratic and non-violent means. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) give the broadest possible reasons for such mechanisms to be applied and voted upon.

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I understand the intent of the right hon. Member for Bracknell in his amendment, and I understand what lies behind the amendment of the hon. Member for Vauxhall. However, in a real way the provisions in those amendments are totally embodied in the general descriptions in subsection (1). If we were to move away from that general description, I would be fearful of restricting the rights of the Assembly, the Presiding Officer or the Secretary of State, and of circumscribing their actions.

I feel, without feeling very strongly, that we should leave the clause as it is. It is all-embracing and would deal with a catch-all situation that we might not anticipate tonight, but which may arise in the months ahead. I am inclined to leave the Bill as it stands.

Mr. Öpik

As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman does not object in principle to the general content of the amendment. What would we lose by the additional clarification that the amendment would provide?

Mr. McGrady

Amendment No. 15 states that we should leave out lines 28 and 29 and insert the five paragraphs. Those five paragraphs are specific, whereas what would be removed is general. The general is always better than the specific. The right hon. Member for Bracknell and the hon. Member for Vauxhall rightly drew attention to decommissioning, punishment beatings and other aspects and attributes of violence, but they are all there in the terms of the agreement. Although I understand the reasoning and the sentiment behind them, I believe that the amendments would restrict the ability to deal with matters not specifically mentioned.

Mr. Hunter

I want to speak primarily to amendments Nos. 15 and 16. Many of the salient points have already been made, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and there is no reason to revisit them. In passing, I must say how strongly I agree with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). I want to re-express one of her points in my own way. We are so heartily sickened by Northern Ireland's sectarian violence and so earnestly yearn for it to end that there is a danger that we will suspend our critical faculties and, like automatons, support any measure or gesture that purports to promote peace. There is a danger in so doing that we will defeat the objective.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has returned to the Chamber. I listened carefully to his speech, and I want to make my main points in reply to his arguments. He said—I paraphrase—that we should not, could not, must not or cannot legislate outside the agreement. My arguments in support of amendments Nos. 15 and 16 comply with the remit that the hon. Gentleman wishes to impose on the debate. I do not agree with him that we must not, could not, should not, or cannot legislate outside the agreement. My understanding of the triple lock is that Parliament has a proactive role in the process and has every right to interpret and implement the agreement. However, that is not my main point.

I recognise the imperfection and inadequacies of amendments Nos. 15 and 16. They were pointed out by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. However, I believe that the amendments are a distinct step in the right direction, and I shall argue that they are entirely consistent with the agreement. They arise essentially from the same arguments as those put by Conservative Members during the debate on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. I cannot really understand why the Government will not accept them. I will clarify and enlarge on that point.

Mr. Winnick

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that he is against the agreement and that he voted, as he has every right to do, against the Bill on Second Reading?

Mr. Hunter

Oh, yes. I have never sought to conceal that. It is irrelevant to the amendment, but my opposition to the agreement is on public record.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 consist of five unnumbered paragraphs. The essential point is that all those unnumbered paragraphs are entirely consistent with the spirit and the letter of the agreement. The first unnumbered paragraph reflects closely and is a re-expression of clause 23(1)(a). The second unnumbered paragraph is as near as possible identical to subsection (7)(b). The third paragraph is a re-expression of subsection (7)(c) and the fifth paragraph is virtually identical to subsection (7)(d). We immediately establish in four of the five paragraphs of the amendment that there is no difference in degree or kind from the content of the Bill as it stands.

The one area in which the amendments introduce a novel dimension is in the fourth paragraph. We need to compare that paragraph with paragraph 3 of the section entitled "Decommissioning" on page 20 of the agreement. I defy any hon. Member to say where that paragraph differs in substance, significance or meaning from paragraph 3 of the decommissioning section in the agreement. This is the issue on which many Conservative Members had difficulty in understanding the Government's opposition to a comparable amendment to the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill just a month ago.

We are tabling amendments that are entirely consistent with the spirit and the letter of the agreement as interpreted by the Government in the Bill and in the agreement itself. I do not believe that our argument was answered adequately by the Government during the debate on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, and, like many other hon. Members, I look forward to what will be said today.

Reduced to simplicity, amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are consistent with the agreement and comply with the requirements demanded by the hon. Member for Walsall, North and, within the hon. Gentleman's remit for the debate, they cannot be rejected.

There is a second basis of argument for my belief that the amendments are essential. I pick up a point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East, and perhaps made also in an intervention by the hon. and learned Member for North Down. It is a generally agreed fact that very many Unionists voted yes in the referendum because of their understanding, and the media's reporting, of what the Prime Minister said on two visits to Belfast—one on the Thursday just over a week before referendum day, and the other on the day before polling day. There was also the handwritten note, and the letter that he wrote, which was published in the Irish Newsand the Belfast News Letter. I should like briefly to concentrate on that letter.

The Prime Minister's letter appeared in those two major Northern Ireland newspapers on the morning of referendum day. He wrote: Representatives of parties intimately linked to paramilitary groups can only be in a future NI government if it is clear that there will be no more violence and the threat of violence has gone. That doesn't mean just decommissioning but all bombings, killings, beatings and an end to targeting, recruiting and all the structures of terrorism. The Prime Minister continued: I have set out the tests for this. They will be enshrined by law and these tests will be applied". That is what the Prime Minister said. However, the perception remains that he and the Government have yet to deliver on that pledge.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Those such as myself—perhaps lawyers—accustomed to the language felt that the Prime Minister's pledges had as many holes as a colander. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the undoubted intention of the pledges was to persuade the electorate of their substance, regardless of the escape clauses with which they were festooned?

Mr. Hunter

I very strongly agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that that is indeed the case. If one analyses extremely carefully the Prime Minister's quoted words, one realises that they equate with neither the media presentation nor the general public's perception of them.

A point that I have made more than once is that the media presentation and public perception of those words were public matters—published in the press—and that the Northern Ireland Office did not issue any statement of correction or denial. Unwittingly, I have no doubt—I must be charitable—it perpetuated and enhanced the misunderstanding.

I come to the end of the argument that I want to present. First and foremost, amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are consistent with the agreement and with the Government's interpretation of the agreement as presented in the Bill. Secondly, the Government have still to account for the perception and the reality of the Prime Minister's as yet unfulfilled pledges.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I affirm my own total and unequivocal opposition to violence in politics within a democracy—in case any Committee member wishes to ask me about my position on the matter. In fact, I am so opposed to such violence that I should include in my definition of it not only life-threatening actions but intimidatory or insulting behaviour within a political body that might silence those who have a view to express. That definition should express the fulness of my commitment to anti-violence. I am not a recent convert to that view, but have held it throughout my political life.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) expressed my own thoughts so well that I have curtailed my speech, and will add only a few further thoughts.

If the words of clause 23 did not fit the agreement, I am quite that Ministers would themselves have tabled amendments for debate today so that the words fit the agreement entirely. As they have not tabled such amendments, I can only presume—as I have not been involved in the talks that arrived at the agreement—that the Bill's words fit the agreement.

This debate has lasted for the best part of three hours, and it is interesting that the violence committed by only one quarter has been mentioned. Let me say—having expressed my total opposition to violence of any kind—that it is interesting that only violence committed by the nationalist side of the equation has been mentioned, except when the hon. Member for South Down, correctly, said that he was opposed to violence from any quarter, nationalist or Unionist.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Robert McCartney

Is the hon. Lady aware that the reason for concentration on what might be loosely called "republican" violence—as opposed to so-called "loyalist" violence—is that, under the d'Hondt principles, the only representatives inextricably linked with violence who have any prospect of becoming a Minister in the Executive are those associated with republican violence? However, I am sure that every Committee member will endorse her sentiments—with which I should like expressly to be associated—about opposition to violence of any kind.

6.15 pm
Mrs. Fyfe

I am aware of the d'Hondt principles, but let me continue with the point that I was making.

Opposition Members would have done their case more credit if they had been even-handed in their references to violence. We have, after all, only in recent weeks seen extreme violence at Drumcree. Can it be the case that not a single person aiming missiles at police and the Army is a member of any political party? Perhaps that is so. However, if any person taking part in the violence was a member of a party, I wonder what that party is doing about expelling that member? It cannot be taken for granted that that party is totally opposed to violence if it ignores a member behaving in that manner. Although I certainly do not know for certain, it is hard to credit that not one of those engaged in that extreme violence against our own police and Army has membership in any political party.

I agree with another point made by the hon. Member for South Down—about how senseless it is to expect that violence will totally stop. South Africa, for example, would still be in the throes of apartheid if, on both sides, its people of good will had not been willing to come together and acknowledge that extremists on both sides would regard some actions of people on their own side as a sell-out and refuse to accept them. We have to try to move forward, and the Bill is a part of it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fyfe

I shall continue.

Far greater risks come from not supporting the Bill. I was really worried when I heard an Opposition Member—whose constituency I forget, but we are colleagues in the Council of Europe, and we agree on so many things—say that he is now dubious about the Bill. I am seriously worried about that.

Committee members have criticised what they consider to be the loose terminology of the phrase "any other reason", which is mentioned in two parts of the Bill. The phrase is all-inclusive, and could mean any type of violent activity. If one is going to object to someone on the grounds of only one particular aspect of violence, we will be back to an exercise of, "What about?" Human ingenuity can create endless ways in which to act violently or to intimidate others. Should the Bill contain an endless list of every form of violence that anyone has imagined? Of course not. The phrase "any other reason" has therefore been included in the Bill, so that the Assembly itself can act as it sees fit in each case.

Mr. MacKay

I know that the hon. Lady would not want deliberately to mislead the House, and I shall help her put the record straight. I made it clear in my opening remarks that I condemned all violence, and I mentioned the number of paramilitary punishment beatings as well as the number of IRA punishment beatings. The hon. Lady was present for Second Reading on Monday, and heard me condemn what had happened at Drumcree and elsewhere. I suspect that she was also present last Wednesday during Northern Ireland questions, when the same condemnation was made. At no point, have I or any member of my party been anything but even-handed in our condemnation of terrorism, violence and intimidation.

We are now discussing the Assembly, however. As the hon. and learned Member for North Down said, there is only one paramilitary party that, under the d'Hondt principle, could possibly take ministerial office, and that is Sinn Fein-IRA. Inevitably, we have had to concentrate on that.

Mrs. Fyfe

I missed the opening sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, so he possibly made that reference then, but it was not in my hearing. I apologise if I have misrepresented what he said, but I find—I am sure that Hansard will show me to be correct—that most of the debate has been about violence from one side.

Opposition Members are talking about the current situation, but we are talking about creating an Assembly which, we must surely hope, will last for many years, so the same issue could arise in future in respect of a member of some other group, Unionist or nationalist. My point is that it is perfectly reasonable to retain the words "for any other reason" in the Bill, because that allows the widest possible interpretation of what the Assembly itself could decide was unacceptable conduct. To return to my earlier point, I would even include in the term "any other reason" intimidatory behaviour in the Chamber.

Mr. Öpik

I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees that one of the biggest problems in this debate, and, one can predict, one of the biggest problems of the Assembly's actions in regard to violence, is likely to centre on interpretation. How does the hon. Lady feel about what I presume to be the intention behind the amendment, which is to specify as much as we can in order to reduce the element of subjectivity—and, more to the point, the vagueness—which could cause enormous dispute within the Assembly itself?

Mrs. Fyfe

I thought that I had dealt with that point. If we were to attempt to include every possible activity that could be counted as a violent act, the Bill would have umpteen pages, and still leave something out. It is better to leave the words "for any other reason", so that the Assembly has the authority to act on what it finds unacceptable.

I hope that what I have said has contributed to the debate. It is important to get behind the Bill, and behind the agreement. We all know what will happen if they should fail.

Mr. Donaldson

Government Members, especially the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), have referred many times to those of us who oppose the agreement. The referendum is over, lest the hon. Gentleman has not noticed. The people of Northern Ireland voted for the agreement, and that is why we are discussing the Bill. The hon. Gentleman seemed to be saying that any issue that we raise is invalid because we oppose the agreement. I hope that that is not the case, but he keeps asking the same question and one wonders what his motive is.

We are dealing specifically with the issue of the holding of ministerial office. It is important to focus on that aspect of the clause, because some of the contributions today have ranged very widely.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), let me make it clear that my colleagues and I have always opposed terrorist violence, from whatever quarter it comes. When I was 18 years old, I joined the Ulster Defence Regiment, part of Her Majesty's security forces, to fight terrorism. I had the option to join the Ulster Volunteer Force, but I am opposed to paramilitary, terrorist violence and went out to defend the community against all forms of terrorism and paramilitary organisations. Let the hon. Lady be in no doubt that my colleagues and I oppose terrorist violence from wherever it comes.

Let us understand what we are dealing with. The only terrorist organisation with political representatives in the Assembly that is eligible to hold ministerial office is the IRA. That is the reality. The UVF's representatives—the Progressive Unionist party—secured only two seats in the Assembly, so they would not be eligible for ministerial office. The Ulster Democratic party, representing the UDA, had no one elected to the Assembly and has not the remotest prospect of holding ministerial office. The only organisation eligible to hold ministerial office is the IRA, and we are focusing on that because the clause deals with the holding of ministerial office. I hope that the hon. Member for Maryhill understands why that has been the focus of our attention. We have to deal with the reality.

The IRA has the prospect of holding ministerial office in the Northern Ireland Assembly—and I mean the IRA, because many of the members of Sinn Fein who have been elected to the Assembly are senior members of the Provisional IRA. The hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness), who do not take their seats in the House, are both acknowledged publicly to have been in the past, if they are not at present, members of the army council of the IRA. Those are the very people who are about to become Ministers in the Government of Northern Ireland. Let us understand the reality of the situation.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understand my hon. Friend's argument, but does he accept that the legislation would cover any party or any person engaged in violence? Therefore, it is not aimed at any particular party or person, although I understand my hon. Friend's argument in the context of the current situation.

Mr. Donaldson

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course, the principle applies to all paramilitary and terrorist organisations. We believe that the provisions in this Bill, like those in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, are inadequate. They do not define clearly the requirement for paramilitary-linked political parties to be committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. I know that Labour Members say that the agreement and the Bill state that people holding office should be committed to peaceful means, but there must be some accountability. There must be some means of holding people to that commitment. Our view is that the Bill's provisions are inadequate for holding people to account. That is where I am coming from.

I was present during the talks that led to the agreement. I was present because I wanted a fair and honourable agreement that provided the basis for a way forward for Northern Ireland. I voted against the agreement because of the situation that we are discussing now. I am not prepared to accept as Ministers in the Government of Northern Ireland people who are members of the IRA army council—members of an organisation which has not given up violence for good.

What we have is a ceasefire from the IRA. It was breached at the weekend by the murder of Andrew Kearney. It was breached by the beating of Vincent McKenna, and it has been breached on numerous occasions since it was brought into effect. It is not a permanent end to violence; nor does it represent a commitment to exclusively peaceful means. Those who hold ministerial office should be committed to peaceful means, and the organisations to which they are linked must demonstrate that in a tangible form before people become eligible to hold ministerial office. I object to the Bill because it contains nothing that would prevent representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA from becoming Ministers in the Government of Northern Ireland.

6.30 pm

I understand that the Secretary of State will lay before the House next week an order specifying the organisations that will benefit from the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill by having their terrorist prisoners released early. It will be interesting to discover what she does—whether she specifies that the Provisional IRA will benefit from the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill in the aftermath of the murder of Andrew Kearney and the beating of Vincent McKenna.

That will be the first test of the commitment of the Government and the Secretary of State to hold those organisations—including the Provisional IRA—to the commitment to exclusively peaceful means. We shall see whether the Government have the courage to take those people on and hold them to account or whether, when it comes to the test, they will do what they have done in the past, and will no doubt do in future, and fudge the issue and walk away. The prisoners will be released, the murderers will walk on to the streets early, and representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA will hold ministerial office.

There are transitional arrangements in the agreement to cover the period between the establishment of the Assembly following the election on 25 June and the transfer of power from Parliament to the Assembly. The transitional arrangements include provisions for shadow Ministers. Paragraph 35 of the agreement refers to those…serving as shadow Ministers". Even before the provisions of the Bill can be implemented, representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA will be entitled to be appointed as shadow Ministers. So what will happen on the transfer of power? Schedule 14 states: Any nomination of a person to hold a Ministerial office made before the appointed day shall on and after that day have effect as if it had been made under section 15. In other words, when representatives of Sinn Fein are appointed as shadow Ministers without any of the provisions of the Bill and the so-called safeguards in it coming into effect, they will automatically become fully appointed Ministers. So how can we prevent them from taking up office? How can we hold them to the commitment to exclusively peaceful means?

The only real provision is for a cross-community vote in the Assembly. The three options set out in the Bill to exclude people from office require the passing of a vote in the Assembly based on cross-community support. In effect, that gives a veto to one political party in Northern Ireland—the SDLP. Will the SDLP ever vote to remove Sinn Fein-IRA from office? That question was posed to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), but he has not yet answered it. It was also posed to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and he has not yet answered it.

What are the circumstances in which the SDLP will vote in the Assembly to have Sinn Fein-IRA removed from office? I do not believe that it is in the interests of Northern Ireland or in the interests of the agreement— even though I opposed it—and the workability of the institutions established by it to leave one political party to decide whether Ministers who are linked to an organisation that is engaged in violence should continue to hold office. If that continues to be the only effective mechanism whereby those people can be excluded from office, I do not believe that the agreement or the institutions created under it will work effectively or properly.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a precedent in the attitude of the SDLP at the talks at Dublin castle? He will remember that we went there for a week, but the talks never took place because the IRA had committed an offence just the day before. The question arose whether Sinn Fein representatives should be expelled from the talks, and the SDLP was against their expulsion.

Mr. Donaldson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right. On the one occasion when the SDLP was put to the test on the exclusion of Sinn Fein from the talks, on the basis that the IRA had breached the Mitchell principles, it opposed the expulsion of Sinn Fein.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman inform the Committee what was the punishment for the deaths of two Roman Catholics? Two of its own co-religionists were murdered and it was proved that they were IRA killings. What punishment did Sinn Fein receive?

Mr. Donaldson

I can answer that. The punishment was two weeks' expulsion from the talks process. It was one week for one murder. That was the penalty, and it was opposed by the SDLP. What confidence can I or the people of Northern Ireland have in the mechanisms in the Bill that provide that people who breach the commitment to peaceful means will be removed from office I am afraid that I have no confidence in those mechanisms.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Paul Murphy)

We have had an extremely important debate—possibly one of the most important debates during our consideration of the Bill in Committee. It partly, but not completely, mirrors the debate on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. The circumstances are different and we are considering a different law, but some of the points that were made in respect of that Bill were made in respect of this one, too.

I fully acknowledge the importance and seriousness of the issues that reflect real concerns not just of right hon. and hon. Members, but of very large numbers of people who live and work in Northern Ireland.

I also understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). I know that he is fully committed to the agreement and its success. I am grateful to him for his kind words. I do not know whether he knows everything that I know, but I admire the fact that he spoke in the spirit of the agreement that he and I support.

I accept that those who did not support the agreement spoke with complete sincerity on the basis that we need to address the issue. We have partly done so in this debate. I hope to answer a number of points that have been raised, and to make some points of my own.

The debate is set against a backcloth of appalling violence and civil unrest in the past three weeks in Northern Ireland. There has been violent disorder, disgraceful attacks on the forces of law and order, and the deaths of three young boys. Many right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the dreadful beating of Mr. McKenna and the murder of Mr. Kearney. Of course, the Government join all right hon. and hon. Members in utterly condemning such murders and so-called punishment beatings which, as a number of hon. Members have said, have no place in a civilised society. A vigorous police investigation into Mr. Kearney's death is under way. The RUC is pursuing the possibility that the murder was carried out by the Provisional IRA. We await the outcome of those investigations.

It is important to consider the issues in the context not just of what has happened in the past three or four weeks, but of what has happened since the referendum. The issues were rightly raised during the referendum campaign. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sought to respond to those concerns carefully, responsibly and within the terms of the agreement. He clarified them in his speech at Balmoral on 14 May. Clause 23 reflects what the parties negotiated in the agreement and what the Prime Minister promised during the referendum campaign.

The details of the clause are important, but we must not lose sight of the fundamental principles underlying the agreement. The first is set out in paragraph 25 of strand 1, which says: Those who hold office should use only democratic, non-violent means and those who do not should be excluded or removed from office". As my right hon. Friend said in his Balmoral speech: Those who have used the twin tactics of the ballot box and the gun must make a clear choice. There can be no fudge between democracy and terror.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister saying that what the Prime Minister said was not outside the terms of the agreement?

Mr. Murphy

The Prime Minister clarified the agreement during the referendum campaign. He made it clear what he, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, believed to be the case on the agreement. Taking all the responsibilities of his office, he assured people of the issues to which I have referred.

The second fundamental principle of the agreement is that the new institutions of government in Northern Ireland are open to all those who share a common commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means. As the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said when he addressed the first meeting of the new Assembly: We are not saying, and we have never said, that the fact that someone has a certain past means that he cannot have a future. We have always acknowledged that it is possible for people to change. The third fundamental principle is that the agreement stands or falls as a package. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Balmoral: The agreement is what has to be implemented in all its parts. There can be no cherry-picking. The agreement was negotiated by the parties and was approved overwhelmingly by the people of Northern Ireland. Our task is to implement it fairly and fully.

That means that we must work to implement all the elements of the agreement—those that benefit us and those that are uncomfortable for us. We have listened carefully to the arguments, but we cannot accept proposals that call those fundamental principles into question.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

It is clearly the responsibility of Members of Parliament to stand by the side of the victims—those who are still being intimidated and beaten up, and those who have been killed. The actions of paramilitaries are directed at generating publicity and public reaction—local or national. Our job is to try to ensure that the publicity and the public reaction work against them. Will the Minister make it clear how we can turn the temperature up so that those who might exclude themselves by association with continuing violence will say so openly, or stop the violence so that there are no more victims?

Mr. Murphy

That is achievable in the context of the clause. Our overriding task is to give effect to the agreement. Paragraph 25 says: An individual may be removed from office following a decision of the Assembly taken on a cross-community basis, if (s)he loses the confidence of the Assembly, voting on a cross-community basis, for failure to meet his or her responsibilities, including, inter alia, those set out in the Pledge of Office. Those who hold office should use only democratic, non-violent means and those who do not should be excluded or removed from office under these provisions. That paragraph makes some fundamental points: any decision on exclusion from ministerial office is for the Assembly; such a decision must be taken on the basis of cross-community voting; the relevant grounds are any failure to meet the Minister's responsibilities; and, in particular, those grounds include any breach of the commitment in the pledge of office required of all Ministers, to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means". The clause reflects each of those elements. It is right that the grounds for exclusion emphasised in subsections (1) and (2) reflect the agreement's emphasis on the use of only democratic, non-violent means and embrace other breaches of the pledge of office.

6.45 pm

I understand the thinking behind the amendments, but I cannot accept them, because they would replace or add to the grounds for exclusion set out in subsections (1) and (2), which closely reflect the terms of paragraph 25 of strand 1 of the agreement and the accompanying pledge of office, with other tests and criteria, however well meant or sensible. To do so, would be to move away from the specific terms of paragraph 25 of strand 1. I am confident that the wide grounds available under the clause fully meet the requirement of the agreement that those who do not use only democratic and non-violent means should be excluded from office.

I cannot accept the amendments tabled by the Democratic Unionist party, because they would remove the requirement for cross-community support, which is a key element of the agreement, repeated twice in paragraph 25.

We have set out to give effect to the promise of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his Balmoral speech to give legislative expression directly and plainly to the factors that he set out. The Prime Minister's starting point was: The Agreement is what has to be implemented in all its parts. That is also the starting point of the clause. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said: In clarifying whether the terms and spirit of the agreement are being met and whether violence has genuinely been given up for good, there are a range of factors to take into account". The four factors that he set out are in the Bill. He said: Those factors provide evidence upon which to base an overall judgment—a judgment which will necessarily become more rigorous over time. Subsections (6) and (7) provide for the Secretary of State to reach such an overall judgment, taking into account the four factors that the Prime Minister set out. The Secretary of State can then communicate her opinion to the Assembly and require it to consider whether to exclude someone from ministerial office. However, the final decision is for the Assembly. That is vital to the agreement.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

Is it not a waste of time for us to be here considering the Bill in Committee if everything must be exactly as set out in the agreement? Does that not show that this Parliament, which is supposed to be sovereign, has to give way to an agreement? If this is a sovereign Parliament, we have the right to put forward amendments, which the Minister should consider on their merits, rather than being stuck with an agreement that appears to be set in stone, like the laws of the Medes and the Persians.

Mr. Murphy

I do not know too much about Medes and Persians. The people of Northern Ireland were clear about what they wanted. They voted for the agreement by a large majority in the referendum. The fact that we have spent the past three hours debating just one clause of an 82-clause Bill shows that our time has not been wasted and that the House of Commons is an important place for such discussions. Indeed, in the next 15 or 20 minutes, we shall doubtless be voting on whether we should accept the clause.

It is no surprise to be faced with amendments very similar to those tabled to the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. They fall broadly into two groups. Some propose new factors, and some seek to turn the factors from ones leading to an overall judgment to ones leading to four separate tests or hurdles. Some try to do both. Of course, we listened during proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill. As the Committee will know, the factors were changed and improved as a result of those debates. In particular, factor (d) was expanded, at the urging of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, to make it clear that there must be full co-operation in implementing the decommissioning section of the Belfast agreement. I cannot accept amendments that would add to the factors set out by the Prime Minister. Nor can I accept those that turn the factors into separate tests. As the Prime Minister said: We are not setting new preconditions or barriers. Of course gaps must be filled. In answer to the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), another reason why the House of Commons must debate such matters is precisely that there are gaps to fill. In places where the agreement is silent, we, as a House of Commons, must legislate. We have in all events to follow the spirit of the agreement The agreement is silent on the length of any period of exclusion, for instance, so we have inserted a 12-month period of exclusion. Additionally, there is provision in the Bill to exclude parties. There could also be breaches that give grounds for exclusion that are not personal, but have to do with party policy or the position of the party as a whole. In such cases, it would be nonsense to exclude one Minister, only to see him or her replaced by another from the same party who, for exactly the same reason, would be in breach of his or her responsibilities.

I have received representations from hon. Members, particularly those representing Northern Ireland, regarding the phrase "for any other reason". Indeed it must be rethought. We shall be consulting parties during the next month or two before the Bill goes to the other place to see whether we can make an acceptable change to that part of the clause A number of the concerns expressed come down to this: the provisions in the clause sound fine in theory, but will not be used in practice; they will prove ineffective. If so, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we shall support changes to make the provisions effective.

I assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take her responsibilities extremely seriously. Where she considers that a genuine issue arises on whether a party or an individual has breached the fundamental commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, she will act to ensure that the Assembly considers the issue. She will, of course, closely consult security advisers, particularly the Chief Constable. She will particularly take into account not only the activities of an individual or a party, but those of any paramilitary organisation to which an individual or party is clearly and inextricably linked in a relationship of support.

The hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) referred to cases that have arisen in recent weeks. If it is found that the murder of Mr. Kearney may have been carried out by members of the Provisional IRA, the Secretary of State must take that factor into account during her deliberations. All such matters can be taken into account only by her, because she receives the proper advice from the Chief Constable, the security forces and others.

Then—this is the essence—the matter will be relayed to the Assembly, which can discuss it if one of three triggers is used. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister can initiate a debate; the Assembly, with its 30 Members, can ask for and initiate a debate; or the Assembly can be obliged to debate a matter if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so writes to it as a result of the four factors to which I have referred. Those factors are to be taken in the round by the Secretary of State as an indicator of whether there is a genuine commitment to non-violence and to democracy.

Ultimately, it is and must be the Assembly which has control over such matters. I am responsible to the House of Commons as a Minister; an Assembly Minister is responsible to the Assembly. That is a very important concept, which the Assembly must take into account.

I simply repeat that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, too—that, in the event of this not working properly, we shall have to look at it again, when that time comes. Of course, I hope that that time will never come. I also hope that the right hon. Member for Bracknell will feel inclined to withdraw his amendment.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Minister has said that he is answerable to this House and, therefore, for its decisions. What would he say if a majority of Tories, rather than a majority of his own party, was required to keep him in office?

Mr. Murphy

I should be a very lucky man.

Mr. MacKay

On behalf of the Opposition, I cannot guarantee that we would keep the Minister in office, much as we admire him.

I have listened carefully to the Minister's very reasonable response, but I regret to say that I am still convinced that we would be right to press our amendment to the vote. The Prime Minister clarified the agreement on the Floor of the House on 6 May and subsequently in his Balmoral speech. Our amendments are within the scope of the agreement. They would strengthen the working of the Assembly. Given a background of violence, punishment beatings and—so far—no co-operation with the decommissioning commission, it is in the interests of the House and of the Assembly that the amendments are agreed.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 144, Noes 272.

Division No. 347] [6.56 pm
Allan, Richard Donaldson, Jeffrey
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Duncan Smith, Iain
Arbuthnot, James Evans, Nigel
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Faber, David
Baker, Norman Fallon, Michael
Baldry, Tony Fearn, Ronnie
Beggs, Roy Flight, Howard
Beith, Rt Hon A J Forsythe, Clifford
Bercow, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Beresford, Sir Paul Fox, Dr Liam
Blunt, Crispin Fraser, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Garnier, Edward
Brady, Graham Gibb, Nick
Brake, Tom Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brazier, Julian Gorrie, Donald
Browning, Mrs Angela Gray, James
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Greenway, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Grieve, Dominic
Burnett, John Gummer, Rt Hon John
Burns, Simon Hammond, Philip
Burstow, Paul Hancock, Mike
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Harris, Dr Evan
Cash, William Hawkins, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Hayes, John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Chidgey, David Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Chope, Christopher Horam, John
Clappison, James Hunter, Andrew
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Colvin, Michael Jenkin, Bernard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James Key Robert
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Kirkwood, Archy
Day Stephen Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Leigh, Edward Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Letwin, Oliver Soames, Nicholas
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Spicer, Sir Michael
Lidington, David Spring, Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Luff, Peter Streeter, Gary
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Stunell, Andrew
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Swayne, Desmond
McIntosh, Miss Anne Syms, Robert
MacKay, Andrew Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Sir Teddy
McLoughlin, Patrick Thompson, William
Madel, Sir David Tonge, Dr Jenny
Maples, John Tredinnick, David
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Trend, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa Trimble, Rt Hon David
Moss, Malcolm Tyrie, Andrew
Norman, Archie Viggers, Peter
Öpik, Lembit Walter, Robert
Ottaway, Richard Wardle, Charles
Page, Richard Waterson, Nigel
Paice, James Wells, Bowen
Paisley, Rev Ian Whitney, Sir Raymond
Prior, David Whittingdale, John
Randall, John Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Redwood, Rt Hon John Willetts, David
Rendel, David Willis, Phil
Robathan, Andrew Wilshire, David
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Woodward, Shaun
Ruffley, David Yeo, Tim
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan Tellers for the Ayes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Mr. Oliver Heald and
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Mr. Tim Collins.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Caton, Martin
Ainger, Nick Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clapham, Michael
Allen, Graham Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clelland, David
Atkins, Charlotte Coaker, Vernon
Banks, Tony Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Colman, Tony
Begg, Miss Anne Connarty, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bermingham, Gerald Corbett, Robin
Berry, Roger Corbyn, Jeremy
Betts, Clive Corston, Ms Jean
Blears, Ms Hazel Cox, Tom
Blizzard, Bob Cranston, Ross
Boateng, Paul Crausby, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cummings, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bradshaw, Ben Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dalyell, Tam
Browne, Desmond Darvill, Keith
Buck, Ms Karen Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Butler, Mrs Christine Davidson, Ian
Byers, Stephen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Caborn, Richard Dawson, Hilton
Campbell-Savours, Dale Denham, John
Canavan, Dennis Dobbin, Jim
Cann, Jamie Doran, Frank
Caplin, Ivor Dowd, Jim
Casale, Roger Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Lock, David
Edwards, Huw Love, Andrew
Efford, Clive McAvoy, Thomas
Ellman, Mrs Louise McCabe, Steve
Ennis, Jeff McCafferty, Ms Chris
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McDonagh, Siobhain
Field, Rt Hon Frank McDonnell, John
Fisher, Mark McGrady, Eddie
Fitzpatrick, Jim McIsaac, Shona
Fitzsimons, Lorna McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Flint, Caroline Mackinlay, Andrew
Follett, Barbara McNamara, Kevin
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McNulty, Tony
Foulkes, George McWilliam, John
Fyfe, Maria Mahon, Mrs Alice
Gapes, Mike Mallaber, Judy
Gardiner, Barry Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gerrard, Neil Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Godman, Dr Norman A Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Godsiff, Roger Martlew, Eric
Goggins, Paul Maxton, John
Golding, Mrs Llin Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Merron, Gillian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Grocott, Bruce Milburn, Alan
Hain, Peter Miller, Andrew
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mitchell, Austin
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hanson, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Healey, John Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hepburn, Stephen Morley, Elliot
Hesford, Stephen Mudie, George
Hill, Keith Mullin, Chris
Hodge, Ms Margaret Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hoey, Kate Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hood, Jimmy Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Hoon, Geoffrey Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hopkins, Kelvin Norris, Dan
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Howells, Dr Kim O'Hara, Eddie
Hoyle, Lindsay Olner, Bill
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Organ, Mrs Diana
Hurst, Alan Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hutton, John Palmer, Dr Nick
Iddon, Dr Brian Pearson, Ian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Pendry, Tom
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Perham, Ms Linda
Jenkins, Brian Pickthall, Colin
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pope, Greg
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Purchase, Ken
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Quin, Ms Joyce
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Quinn, Lawrie
Kemp, Fraser Radice, Giles
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rammell, Bill
Khabra, Piara S Rapson, Syd
Kidney, David Raynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, Peter Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kumar, Dr Ashok Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Laxton, Bob Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lepper, David Rogers, Allan
Levitt, Tom Rooker, Jeff
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooney, Terry
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Ms Joan Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Timms, Stephen
Ryan, Ms Joan Tipping, Paddy
Salmond, Alex Touhig, Don
Sarwar, Mohammad Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Sedgemore, Brian Vaz, Keith
Shaw, Jonathan Vis, Dr Rudi
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Ward, Ms Claire
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Wareing, Robert N
Singh, Marsha Watts, David
Skinner, Dennis White, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Wicks, Malcolm
Soley, Clive Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stevenson, George Winnick, David
Stinchcombe, Paul Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stoate, Dr Howard Wise, Audrey
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Wood, Mike
Stringer, Graham Worthington, Tony
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wray, James
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Mr. John McFall and
Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Seven o'clock, THE FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN proceeded to put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings to be concluded at that hour.

Question agreed to.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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