HC Deb 13 July 1999 vol 335 cc247-93
Mr. Trimble

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 13, leave out from 'Commission' to end of line 16.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 13, after 'Commission' insert 'and specifies the nature of that failure'. No. 3, in page 1, line 13, at end insert— '(iii) a failure within 4 days after Parts II and III of the 1998 Act come into force to appoint a contact person, give notice of intention to decommission arms and otherwise act in accordance with paragraph 7 of the Decommissioning Scheme made under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997; or (iv) a failure within 4 weeks under Parts II and III of the 1998 Act came into force to decommission arms within the meaning of paragraphs 21 to 25 of the Decommissioning Scheme made under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997; or'. No. 4, in page 1, line 13, at end insert— '(iii) a failure to commence actual decommissioning within three days of Parts II and III of the 1998 Act coming into force; or'. No. 5, in page 1, line 13, at end insert— '(iv) a failure to proceed with actual decommissioning in a regular and proportional manner so as to achieve total decommissioning by May 2000; or'. No. 6, in page 1, line 16, at end insert 'or— (c) there has been a failure by the Decommissioning Commission to confirm a start to the process of decommissioning as specified in paragraph 3 of the Joint Statement within 4 days of the formation of the Executive.'. No. 7, in page 1, line 16, at end insert 'or— (d). in reporting progress in September and December 1999 in accordance with paragraph 4 of the Joint Statement the Decommissioning Commission fails to report any actual decommissioning of weapons and explosives.'. No. 31, in page 1, line 16, at end insert 'or— (c) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing do not state before midnight on 22nd July 1999 that they have renounced all violence for good, will physically begin decommissioning by 15th August 1999 and will complete the decommissioning of all their arms and explosives by 1st May 2000; or (d) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing have not before midnight on 14th August 1999 decommissioned 25 per cent of their entire stock of arms and explosives; or (e) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing have not before midnight in 30th April 2000 decommissioned their entire stock of arms and explosives.'. No. 33, in clause 2, page 2, line 31, at end insert 'after either— (a) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing to which a suspended member of the Assembly, Minister or junior Minister, chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee belongs states that they have renounced all violence for good, will physically begin decommissioning by 15th August 1999 and will complete the decommissioning of all their arms and explosives by 1st May 2000; (b) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing to which a suspended member of the Assembly, Minister or junior Minister, chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee belongs decommissions 25 per cent of their entire stock of arms and explosives (provided that such decommissioning occurs before midnight on 31st December 1999); or (c) a paramilitary organisation and its associated political wing to which a suspended member of the Assembly, Minister or junior Minister, chairman or deputy chairman of a statutory committee belongs decommissions their entire stock of arms and explosives.'.

Mr. Trimble

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 are in my name, and I intend to address my remarks primarily to amendment No. 3. Amendment No. 1 would remove subsection (1)(b). The reason for tabling that amendment was to try to get an explanation from the Government of what that subsection means, because it is misconceived, bearing in mind the fact that the Bill will take effect only after devolution has occurred. I cannot see how any party could fail to meet a commitment on devolution once it has occurred, so I should like an explanation of that.

I want to concentrate my remarks on amendment No. 3, which relates to the question of time and timetabling. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State made copious reference to the comments of General de Chastelain of the Decommissioning Commission about the process beginning in a few days, and decommissioning starting in a few weeks. The right hon. Lady relied on that extensively.

Winding up the Second Reading debate, the Minister of State spoke of a timetable coming from the Decommissioning Commission. He said that a breach of that timetable would constitute a breach of a commitment for the purpose of clause 1. I should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if he would spell out precisely how that result is achieved. Having examined the decommissioning scheme created by the Northern Ireland Office under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997, I assume that the only paragraph on which a timetable could be based is paragraph 12, which states: The Commission may make such arrangements as it considers appropriate to facilitate the decommissioning of arms. I suppose that a timetable could constitute an arrangement to facilitate the decommissioning of arms, but that strikes me as being quite some distance from a commitment the breaching of which, for the purpose of clause 1, would cause the suspension of all the arrangements. Surely some distance must be travelled from that permissive arrangement to the existence of a clear commitment.

It is worth looking carefully at what has actually been said. On 2 July, General de Chastelain said: What you have just heard from the Governments, taken in conjunction with our report, makes it possible for the process of decommissioning to begin, literally, a couple of days after devolution. Again, I feel that some distance needs to be travelled between that statement of what is "possible" and a clear commitment whose breach would lead to suspension, and I should be grateful for some elucidation from the Government.

The general also said—this is in the final paragraph of his remarks— My own assessment is that to retain confidence in the process, actual decommissioning would have to begin within a few weeks of the start of the decommissioning process. He had spoken of that beginning within a few days. Paragraph 17 of the commission's report states: It is the Commission's considered view that the process of decommissioning begins in connection with a paramilitary group when it (a) gives an unambiguous commitment that decommissioning will be completed, and (b) commences detailed discussions of actual modalities—amounts, types, location, timing—with the Commission. That is the beginning of the process. There is talk of "an unambiguous commitment"; however, we may wonder whether unambiguous commitments will be given in terms that are satisfactory. In any event, the process is only to lead to the commencement of detailed discussions. It is only from that point that time begins to run for the general's "few weeks".

It should be noted that the general said: My own assessment is that … actual decommissioning would have to begin within a few weeks of the start of the decommissioning process. He was not, at that point, speaking for the commission. If the commencement of the process consists merely of discussions about modalities, are we required to believe that those discussions will be completed rapidly, that the timetable will evolve rapidly, and that it will be possible to say a few weeks later that there has been a breach of that timetable? That strikes me as an incredibly optimistic view.

I know that the Government have prayed in aid the character of General de Chastelain on the basis of the confidence that he has retained among the various parties. He has retained that confidence, but an awful lot of weight has been piled on him, especially given his carefulness not to tie things down rigidly. The Government have given the impression that things are tied down very firmly—to a few days or a few weeks—but when we look at what the general has actually said, it is clear that there is no such precision or certainty. There is a danger that the public are being given the impression that the general has said things that he has not, in fact, said.

9.15 pm

The consequence of that is that the general's credibility and integrity may be put at risk by what the Government have done, have said and are doing in the legislation. Expectations are being created that may not be fulfilled. That is not fair to the general, or to the way in which he is proceeding on the matter. Therefore, it would much better for there to be a precise timetable in the legislation and a timetable that does not depend on the exercise of judgment.

That is why, in amendment No. 3, I have spelt out two sub-paragraphs that deal with clear situations. The first is a failure within four days after the Act comes into force to appoint a contact person, give notice of intention to decommission arms and otherwise act in accordance with paragraph 7 of the Decommissioning Scheme". Those are precise events—paragraph 7 talks about formal notice of intention to decommission and the appointment of a contact person. We can tell precisely whether or not they have happened. Four days is longer than the period mentioned to me in discussions in the period before 2 July, when we were talking about a few days, so I have given a more generous time frame than that mentioned to me by the Government in those negotiations.

I have also provided for a failure within four weeks to decommission arms within the meaning of paragraphs 21 to 25". Again, that is clear and precise. It does not depend on any interpretation by the general or others. Again, four weeks is clearly within the spirit of the discussions that we had before 2 July. Instead of putting an unfair weight on the general, we are moving to something that is precise and that can lead to the sort of action that the Government say that they wish to take under clause 1.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

May I ask the Minister for clarification about the Government's position on when the Good Friday agreement is not being kept to?

I entirely understand the difficulty that we are in, which arises from the fact that the agreement defines the end date for the process—a process that most of us know cannot be done in 24 hours—but does not contain a start date for the process of decommissioning. Any reasonable member of the public would have expected, reasonably, that, as the Good Friday agreement contained an end date, that probably implied a start to decommissioning, which we already would have seen. I suppose that those who are more familiar with the complexities of politics in Northern Ireland than me or than the average member of the public would have realised that that was not good enough, but it seems absolutely clear that someone has to decide by what date decommissioning has to start if it is to end by the agreed date.

The Government are saying, correctly, that, given the complexities of the situation, an independent body should decide the timetable, but surely they should at least say that the groups must act and that, if that body defines the timetable that is required to meet the clear end date for the process, those who do not observe that timetable are not in accord with the agreement. I should have thought that such a clear statement would be helpful to the debate. With regard to prisoner release, I cannot see how, if an organisation is not in accord with what an independent commission says is required to be within the terms of the Good Friday agreement, it can live up to the full terms of the ceasefire as defined in the legislation.

In that regard, I noticed a lack of complete clarity in the words of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and detected firmer language by the Minister in his reply to the Second Reading debate. I should be grateful if I could be told exactly what the Government's position is on the matter, because I do not understand how people can be said to be obeying a ceasefire, or decommissioning, if they refuse actually to stick to the timetable and the terms laid down for the observation of the Good Friday agreement.

The official Opposition have yet to convince me that they are able to behave in a bipartisan way by taking sides with one of the parties most intimately involved in the matter. I could understand someone taking sides in an argument after listening to both sides but I was horrified to hear earlier in the debate that the official Opposition have not even talked to the Social Democratic and Labour party. How can the official Opposition say that they are being helpful and bipartisan if they are being so one-sided?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the matters dealt with in this group of amendments, to which we must confine ourselves.

Dr. Turner

Thank you, Mr. Martin, but that was my final question. Although I certainly heed your advice, I should still like to have an answer to the question.

Mr. MacKay

In the light of your ruling, Mr. Martin, I am not quite sure whether I am allowed to answer the question, although I should like to. Before doing so, however, I commend the rest of the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner). He is a reasonable man and has noted—as did the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) on Second Reading—that we are now 14 months into a two-year period in which decommissioning should be completed. Any reasonable Member would note that, after 14 months, there should have been substantial decommissioning. I need hardly remind the Committee that neither one gun nor one ounce of Semtex has been handed in by any of the paramilitaries who signed up to the Belfast agreement.

If I may trespass a little on your good will, Mr. Martin, I should like to tell the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that the Opposition regularly have informal discussions with individual Social Democratic and Labour party Members, as we do with Unionist Members. I think that Unionist Members will confirm that we have never had a formal meeting with them, but talk to them informally—as I talk to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and other hon. Members.

If the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) would like a formal meeting between SDLP Members and the Leader of the Opposition, we should very much welcome it. I see the hon. Member for South Down in the Chamber and think that he is nodding, so he has heard what I have said. I am very grateful to have cleared that matter up—although, in answering the question, I was clearly out of order, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk was in asking it.

The official Opposition support this group of amendments—some of which we co-tabled, and others of which we tabled on our own. I should tell the Minister just why we believe that the amendments would provide vital safeguards or—to use the Prime Minister's words—"necessary failsafes".

When, 10 days ago, the Prime Minister not unreasonably trumpeted his blueprint from Stormont's Castle buildings; when, subsequently, the Sunday before last, he wrote in The Sunday Times; and when, the Monday before last, he came to the Dispatch Box, he made it very clear to the people of Northern Ireland and to the House that, if he was going to ask Unionists and the House to agree to Ministers establishing an Executive including Sinn Fein Ministers before any decommissioning had occurred, there would have to be proper failsafes. On that basis, we said, "Yes, we can see that point, and we go along with it. The key failsafe will have to be a tight and transparent timetable."

The Prime Minister was very helpful. He went into some detail and kept repeating the terms of the timetable, which were based on general remarks by General de Chastelain. The Prime Minister very clearly said, "Within two or three days, we shall know the answer to the question whether the IRA and Sinn Fein are serious about all that. They will have had to declare that they will decommission to the satisfaction of General de Chastelain. If they do not, they will be out of the Executive." The right hon. Gentleman went on to indicate that, within a few weeks, there would be actual decommissioning and that, in September—and again in November and December—the general and his commission would report back to say whether they were satisfied that not just the Provisional IRA but all other paramilitary groups, whether loyalist or republican, had proceeded to decommission. If any of them had not decommissioned, they would be penalised. That was a proper safeguard.

We were delighted and, in our private discussions with Ministers, we made it clear that we understood that, in an ideal world, it had to be up to General de Chastelain to set a timetable—not up to the Minister, and not even up to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and me by way of amendment tonight. We said that the Prime Minister should invite the general to confirm the details of the timetable that he had broadly outlined two weeks ago by way of a memorandum to the Prime Minister, which then could be published and be part of a schedule to the Bill.

We would then have a clear, transparent, tight and realistic timetable, and all of us could decide whether it had been kept to. With the best will in the world—I have the greatest respect for the Minister of State and for General de Chastelain—we cannot just take those words on trust. The only way in which things can move forward properly is by legislation—presumably, that is why the Minister is rushing this Bill through tonight.

It is essential that the Bill contains the copper-bottomed safeguard of a clear timetable. I can see no good reason why there should not be a timetable, bearing in mind that the timetable in the amendment is similar to—in fact, is slightly more generous than—that outlined by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister promised us a timetable and, frankly, he has not given us a timetable in the Bill. That is why we have been forced to table amendments to include a timetable in the Bill.

If there is no timetable, there can be no guarantees and failsafes, and those who would sit in the Executive as Ministers will not feel able to do so with Sinn Fein because they will not be absolutely certain that, if the IRA fails to decommission, there will be a timetable that has been breached. There is no definite watertight timetable. Give us a watertight timetable, and progress will have been made. It is to be hoped that, if that happened, we would then have the devolved, wide-ranging Executive that the people of Northern Ireland have deserved for many years. I urge the Minister to agree to the amendments.

Dr. George Turner

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, will he explain how he reconciles the fact that he seems to accept that it should be for an independent body to determine the timetable with the fact that the amendments for which he is asking us to vote contain a specific timetable imposed by the right hon. Gentleman in partnership with what will be seen outside this House as one of the protagonists to the argument?

Mr. MacKay

I praised the hon. Gentleman earlier for being a reasonable man, but clearly he has not been listening carefully to my speech. I was with the hon. Gentleman in much of what he said earlier, and I am anxious to take him along with what I am saying now. We acknowledge, and would prefer, that the independent commission, under the chairmanship of General de Chastelain, should set down the timetable. However, as that timetable has not been made precise by the Prime Minister requesting a memorandum from General de Chastelain, we have no alternative but to table the amendment as a poor second-best.

I would be willing to withdraw our amendment—as, I suspect, would the right hon. Member for Upper Bann—if we had a guarantee that a memorandum from the general would be published and could be put in as a schedule to the Bill when it is considered in the other place on Thursday. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that that would be better. We have been forced to table the amendments because there is no timetable.

9.30 pm

I passionately disagree with the hon. Gentleman's implication that there was something wrong in me, as the shadow Secretary of State, signing amendments that were tabled by the First Minister designate of Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. If I agree with the amendments that the right hon. Gentleman is tabling, or with amendments tabled by the hon. Members for South Down or for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), I shall sign them. [Interruption.] I can see that an offer is on the way and we shall have great meetings to conspire to table amendments in the future. I am glad to see both those hon. Members in their place. In all seriousness, I think that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk will, on reflection, see that that was not a wise thing to have said. It is right that right hon. and hon. Members attach their names to amendments on the basis of their merits, rather than on the basis of who else happens to have signed them. That is not how this place works.

I shall conclude my remarks, because under the timetable, the Committee and Report stages will have to be concluded in under two hours and I note that other significant amendments need to be debated. I hope that we will come to those in reasonable time.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Two of the amendments in this group, amendments Nos. 4 and 5, are in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and myself. The purpose of the amendments is similar to the purpose of amendment No. 3 tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). However, a quick glance shows that the timetable in amendments Nos. 4 and 5 might be considered more stringent than that in amendment No. 3.

The fact that the purpose of the amendments is the same draws attention once more to the expectation, based on the word of the Prime Minister, that the legislation would contain some clear time limits for the commencement of decommissioning. People expected that, because that is what the Prime Minister said would happen. He made it clear that there were two certainties, and one was that decommissioning would take place within days and that the process would be under way. The general tenor of the Prime Minister's remarks was that we would be able to flush the IRA out.

Instead, we are now being asked to take the word of General de Chastelain, which was casually thrown out during a news conference. We have some experience of the general on the subject of decommissioning. The world did not start this morning, and that issue has been around for a long time. The general has been at the forefront of much of the controversy that has taken place.

Before the talks process began in 1996, many Unionists—indeed all of those on this Bench—said that they could not sit down and negotiate with Sinn Fein-IRA until decommissioning had not only begun but been completed. That was the position of all the Unionist parties and, I suspect, of some of the Tories present tonight. The general was one of a team, including Prime Minister Holkeri and George Mitchell, a senator from the United States of America. They were given the task of resolving the dilemma over decommissioning. Not surprisingly, they came up with a resolution. They determined, using their judgment, that the IRA was serious about decommissioning. We know how wrong they were, because decommissioning did not happen during the talks process.

However, those people said, "Look, some people want decommissioning to happen before the talks begin, while others say that it should happen after the talks are over. The only proper way to move forward is for decommissioning to take place during the talks. On that basis, we should move forward." That was the basis on which the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), decided that progress could be made.

Why, therefore, do we now want a timetable? It is because we were given exactly the same promises in 1996, and they were defaulted on in the period 1996–98. It is not possible to abide by the promises and good will of others: we want the Bill to contain a timetable. The Prime Minister recognised that it was necessary to have certainty, and that the commitments should be given legislative effect.

Everyone who has met the general would agree that he is a very pleasant man. No one could point to any dishonesty on his part, nor would any of us question his credentials. At the same time, however, we would be fools indeed if we were to let the future of this great principle—the principle of whether the democratic process should be contaminated with those who have not given up violence and have no intention of doing so—depend on his word or expectation. It is clear that we cannot do that.

It has to be said also that the throw-away remarks were made by the general, not by the commission. The commission did not pronounce on a timetable: it made remarks only in its report. It stated: The developments of 1 July give the basis for believing that decommissioning can be completed in the time prescribed by the Good Friday Agreement. That was as far as it went, although it added: There is still sufficient time to do that, but there is a need to get started soon. The commission did not specify a few days, or any particular period. Worse than that, it went on to state: While the Commission is prepared to define a detailed timetable for decommissioning of arms by the main paramilitary groups, it believes this will best be achieved in discussions with the groups". So, it is clear that the paramilitary groups will have an input into what the timetable should be. No doubt, the general suggested to the Government the same thing that he suggested to us when we met him, which was that the timetable in many ways depended on the logistics of the problem—on where the guns are and how they must be destroyed.

Therefore, the general regards the issue of timetabling as one that is best discussed with the paramilitary organisations—or one that can be discussed only with them. For years, the paramilitary organisations have shown a propensity to put off the date on which actual decommissioning would take place. Is it unreasonable for Unionists to ask for specific dates to be put into the Bill, given that decommissioning was to have occurred during the couple of years of the talks process?

Indeed, that was the requirement on which those talks were based. Even after the agreement was reached, decommissioning was to take place within a two-year period but, 14 months later, it has not even begun. In those circumstances, I do not think that Unionists can be accused of being unreasonable in asking for a starting date.

That is all that we ask for: a starting date and a way to measure progress. That could be done on a monthly basis, for example—or on whatever basis is decided—so that a quota of arms could be destroyed in each of the months running up to May 2000.

That is what the amendment would ensure. The Government would be hard put to say that Unionists are asking for something unreasonable, given the history of the problem and the fact that previous promises were not kept by the Prime Minister or during the 1996 talks.

Dr. George Turner

The hon. Gentleman said that a timetable was the only thing that is wanted. My suspicion is that, when the Unionists pocket such a timetable—if they ever do—they will want something else. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a timetable is the only thing needed before he can support the initiative?

Mr. Robinson

Not only am I not saying that now, but I did not say it before. Had the hon. Gentleman been present for the Second Reading debate, he would have heard me say that the Bill would still not be a good piece of legislation, even if all the amendments were agreed. It allows Sinn Fein-IRA into government before any guns have been handed over.

The Prime Minister must keep his word to the people of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) mentioned several occasions on which that word was given. The Prime Minister also spoke on "Good Morning Ulster" and on the radio in Foyle. Every time, he attempted to convince the people of Northern Ireland that it would be only a matter of days before the IRA's bluff was called on decommissioning. Well, we are calling the Prime Minister's bluff now. Let us see the timetable in the Bill.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I have not taken part in many debates on Northern Ireland, although I have talked with many of my colleagues in the Unionist parties. I see the Bill as an opportunity for the people of Northern Ireland to have a continuing relationship with the United Kingdom, within the Union.

I am concerned about the amendment, which I see as precipitate. The dictionary definition of the word "precipitate" is to force out deliberately, and that is what the amendment would do. Instead of moving us steadily towards including within the agreement more people committed to the Assembly and the resolution of the problem within the United Kingdom, the amendment would force some people out.

The IRA and Sinn Fein are often named together, but Sinn Fein has clearly said that it is against the use of arms. It wants decommissioning, but it cannot make the IRA do it. To me and to people outside the Chamber, it seems logical that, if Sinn Fein is brought into the Assembly to participate in ministerial positions, the IRA will become more and more marginalised. We want to continue the period of peace that has existed in spite of splintering among, and intimidation and terror by, paramilitaries from both sides within their own communities, matters that I have raised in the House on behalf of Families Against Intimidation and Terror.

The people of Northern Ireland, on all sides of the community, want steady progress towards conflict resolution. They do not want precipitate moves that force some people out of the agreement and out of the process. That would break the link between the Good Friday agreement and the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Robert McCartney

If the amendment is precipitate, it is precipitation at the end of a very long process. Decommissioning, and the gradual move away from it, has been an issue for two or three years now. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the amendment is not so much a precipitate move as the end point of a slow and long-drawn-out process?

Mr. Connarty

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows how much I respect his views and his intellect, but he is wrong to talk about having reached the end of a process after a few years. Along with a Unionist councillor, I visited a museum in the Shankill where I saw photographs of the assembling of Carson' s volunteers to secure the place of Northern Ireland within the Union. The process did not even start there. It has gone on at least throughout this century. To lay down a timetable specifying four days or four weeks is to insult the memory of people from this and previous centuries who saw the process continuing for many years.

We seem to ask only how people in Northern Ireland can move from conflict and violence to peace. Do Unionist Members think that Yasser Arafat trusts the Israeli Government just because there has been an election? Do they think that the Israeli Government trust the Palestine Liberation Organisation to work through a peace in the occupied territories in independent Palestine? They do not. Do Unionist Members believe that the PLO has no say over what happens in Hamas or Hezbollah? Of course not. But the process moves steadily forward because no one is erecting barriers or saying that, when a certain point is reached, it is, as the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) put it, the end point. If it is the end, it is the end of peace. If it is the end of the peaceful process, then it is the end of the credibility of the Unionist movement in the mainland of the United Kingdom and that is the great danger.

9.45 pm
Mr. Field

I did not vote with the Government on the new clause because I thought that our position was wrong and that the agreement was not broken by that clause. I disagree with this amendment because it breaks the agreement.

Under the agreement, an independent commission was set up. If we try to interfere with that, we are in a new ball game. The commission must have heard the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, in his excellent speech in summing up, saying that they expect movement on decommissioning within days and the first tranche of decommissioning within weeks. I do not think that, given the structure—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr. Connarty

I understand what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was trying to say. He is agreeing that a precipitate motion would prevent progress because it would impose barriers to it.

I can understand the frustration of the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and I commend him for the hard work that he has done, along with the Prime Minister and others. I believe that those in his party who want barriers want the process to be derailed and, if they want that, they are not in the spirit of what the British people want—that includes the people of the United Kingdom. We want conflict resolution which enables people to move back and back—to soften the people concerned and draw them in. If the Assembly includes Sinn Fein people working alongside Unionists in senior positions, it undermines the IRA to the point where it can never use those guns and, therefore, its only way forward is to go with decommissioning.

The Unionists are giving those people a way out, if they carry the amendment.

Rev. Martin Smyth


Mr. Connarty

I will not take an intervention now as I am sure that I will hear the hon. Gentleman's views in his speech.

Mr. Tom King

I asked the Prime Minister, when he made his statement, whether we could have clarification of the details of the failsafe mechanism. I raised the same matter in an intervention on the Secretary of State. I asked for the maximum clarification from the Government before we ended these proceedings.

Further to a point that has just been discussed, this is not a precipitate issue in any sense. On the day of the Downing street declaration—12 December 1993—was a meeting of the British-Irish parliamentary body. We greeted with enthusiasm the announcement of the declaration by Albert Reynolds and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in Downing street. That afternoon, the parliamentary body debated that important development, which was welcomed by all sides.

At that time, I raised what I thought was the most difficult issue that would have to be faced—that of decommissioning. Obviously it would have to be faced. That was generally agreed on the British side, although that belief was greeted by Irish Members of the Dail as a deliberate British attempt to wreck the whole proceedings. It then became clear to me that it would be a most difficult issue to face.

In the end, that issue must be faced. Responsible Members of the Dail know that, even if they achieve a united Ireland, the last thing that they would want or would tolerate are private armies with substantial quantities of weapons available to dissident groups—ould threaten the very existence of that united Ireland. No parliamentary democracy could tolerate the existence of such weapons.

Another reason why it is in the interests of everyone who is seeking to move forward in Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland for weapons to be removed is that there is no guarantee, as we debate this issue, that those whom we regard as the leaders of Sinn Fein-IRA will continue to maintain control of those stocks of weapons.

We have moved far enough through the process to be aware of the dissident groups that exist already—whether Continuity, Real, Revenge or whatever new title has emerged for the splinter groups that may or may not be forming. We know of the allegation that one of those who joined the Real or Continuity IRA was the quartermaster of the IRA. We cannot keep on fudging—whether in the interests of Unionist, nationalist or republican democratic parties which aspire legitimately towards a united Ireland.

Against that background, I have always considered the issue to be important—especially the last step. That comes as no surprise to any of us who have lived through many years of longing for an outcome of peace and for the resolution of this terrible period of conflict and sadness—a small part of my life was spent at the centre of those problems. No one, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon, was under any illusion that the last moment might be the most difficult one. It was often said that it would have to be imposed and that there would not be absolute agreement. I thought that, at least if that last step had to be imposed, it would be done fairly and with justice to either side.

However, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, the measure is an imposition and we shall be trusting people whom we do not trust at present; we are asking democrats to go that extra mile to accommodate men who have been associated with violence, but who claim that they are becoming democrats. Under the Bill, we are preparing to trust them. If we do that, we must be absolutely sure that the basis for that trust is the fairest that we can achieve.

I am grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for ensuring that those of us who take a close interest in these matters received a copy of the Bill—I received one last night. I heard the Prime Minister speak of his determination that there would be a failsafe mechanism; that people would be able to see clearly how the matter would be undertaken; and that there would be no uncertainty. There would be no risk because, if people embarked on the process, the failsafe mechanism would protect them. However, I turned page after page of the Bill and, when I came to the end, I realised that it contained no structure for a failsafe mechanism. I genuinely do not understand that. Ten days ago, the Prime Minister announced what the process would be. General de Chastelain and his colleagues have been working for about two years, and I fail to understand why the measure does not contain the essential ingredient for establishing the failsafe mechanism.

There is a fund of good will in this House towards Governments dealing with Northern Ireland issues—indeed, I have drawn on it myself. I wholly accept that, in certain circumstances, Governments present legislation and ask for the co-operation of the House. In the peculiarly difficult and challenging circumstances of Northern Ireland, Governments are entitled to expect the co-operation of the House to an extent that would never be given to normal legislation of any other kind. The House of Commons has tended to show a sense of responsibility and a bipartisan approach on such occasions. The Government are drawing on that well of bipartisan good will tonight to achieve their objective and to help them to find a solution.

In those circumstances, the House is entitled to expect the fullest information to make that judgment. In all seriousness, I have to say that the Government will be abusing that good will and the relationship that prevails in the House if the Minister is not able to state clearly how the system is going to work. I continue to believe what I said to the Prime Minister last week when he made his statement. I cannot conceive what tripwire there will be—we have not been shown one, and the House does not know what it is—short of the final deadline of May 2000, when everything is supposed to be complete.

I strongly agree with a comment made by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I know General de Chastelain: I knew him well at NATO, during my time as Secretary of State for Defence. He is a fine and honourable man. A man in his position should not be abused or taken advantage of. He has been asked to undertake a job which I hardly imagine he sought and which is as challenging a job as can be found—I suppose its only equal is to advise on the reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Anyone who knows Northern Ireland knows that such challenges have to be met, but they are not the easiest of undertakings. General de Chastelain has undertaken that job.

The Minister will know that I am not known for taking one side or the other—I have been chased around Belfast city hall by a loyalist waving a Union Jack and accusing me of betraying the Union. I genuinely tried to ensure that, in finding a solution to the problems, we recognised the legitimate interests of both sides, including those of the Irish Government. I faced those problems during negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which established the recognition of the legitimate interest of the Irish Government in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It also established the principle of consent, which the Government have paraded today as a key achievement and which Unionists should welcome and accept.

It is against that background of having faced the challenges and having sought to respect the legitimate concerns of both sides that I make my comments tonight. I have to say that a great weight is placed on General de Chastelain, who has to take the responsibility for deciding, at some moment, that he will effectively torpedo the Good Friday agreement—that he has to decide that the offence is so great that he has to stop the whole process that is, as the Government describe it, the best hope for peace in our lifetime. What a responsibility to lay on him. In such circumstances, he needs some sort of bolster: the Government owe it to General de Chastelain to put in the Bill some sort of structure that he can stand by, defend and confirm.

If it is left entirely to General de Chastelain to make up the rules and then to decide whether they have been implemented or not, he will not do it. That would be an impossible task and an unreasonable responsibility to lay on him. Knowing the way in which the House and the Government work, I suspect that the Minister will not have the authority to accept the amendment, although I dearly wish that he did.

I do not claim that the amendment is the perfect solution, but I hope that, before the Bill returns from the other place, the Government will have read what I have said. I hope that the Minister of State will draw my words to the attention of both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and that they will acknowledge that I speak with experience of my time in Northern Ireland.

I pray that something for which we have fought and worked for many years is not destroyed by one last fault. The Government must find a way to insert provisions that will give that necessary measure of confidence and set out a structure in which people can have confidence. Only then will the process have some real chance of working.

10 pm

Dr. Palmer

Our difficulty in this debate is that the end to the conflict in Northern Ireland ultimately depends not so much on the individual terms of the Good Friday agreement or any additional terms that we may seek to impose, but on a development of trust between the parties.

I shall illustrate my point with the example given by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). If he, as a Conservative Member, were found to have in his home a weapon, perhaps a hunting rifle, I, as a Labour Member, would not feel threatened by him because it would never occur to me that he would use his weapon in a violent fashion. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman were in the habit of issuing violent threats and was known to support terrorist activity, I would feel a sense of deep unease when I met him even if I did not know that he had a weapon at home or whether he had voluntarily given up such a weapon, and I would be reluctant to work with him in a common Government. That is the basic problem faced by the Ulster Unionists, as well as by Sinn Fein and every other party in Northern Ireland.

The difficulty that we face with the amendments is the same as that with the previous group of amendments—they seek to home in on, and to harden, a specific aspect of the agreement that is known to cause difficulty to a particular section of those involved in the process. That is why the amendments appear to be partisan and unhelpful.

If General de Chastelain, considering the overall picture, judges that we are making genuine progress towards a civil society in Northern Ireland from which the threat of violence is banned, that will be a crucial step forward. It would be wrong if an amendment that we passed tonight forced the disruption of that process and the end of the Good Friday agreement. Conversely, if General de Chastelain detects that, on one side or another, there is no genuine commitment to the agreement and to peace, and that one party is not serious about the process, that will be a serious matter that will effectively end the process, regardless of whether a rifle or a pound of Semtex has been given up.

Decommissioning is important, as we have all stressed several times, but it is one of a wide range of factors. I believe that, if we had nailed down the decommissioning aspect of the agreement, the critics of the agreement, whom we greet regularly on the Opposition Benches, would be raising other aspects of it because of their basic distrust of the other side, for reasons that we can understand, and their reluctance to reach an agreement with a commitment to a peaceful settlement. The amendment is understandable, but it is unhelpful because it seeks to solidify a particular aspect of the agreement at the expense of the more fundamental question of whether we can trust the parties.

Mr. Öpik

I fully agree with the need for a timetable for decommissioning, but having heard how the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) first savaged and then praised the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), I hesitate before I draw the Tory shilling.

Everybody agrees that we need a timetable. On Second Reading, the issue hinged on whether the Government or an independent body should set the timetable. Both could work, but the Government are suggesting that an independent body, in the form of General de Chastelain's commission, should set the timetable, and I am inclined to agree, for one crucial reason. General de Chastelain has built up enormous credibility with both sides, and individuals and parties have sought to accept him as an effective, independent arbiter. Given the tensions that will unquestionably arise when the timetable is set, it is reasonable to allow General de Chastelain's independent commission to choose the route and the wayposts.

I am therefore a little concerned that the amendments, if agreed, would demand us to do the job. As I said on Second Reading, much of this is about not principle but judgment. Therefore, there is space for people to differ. I still think that de Chastelain is probably in a very strong position to make this happen.

Amendment No. 5 summarises what we would all like: a process that leads to May 2000 as the point of complete decommissioning. If right hon. and hon. Members are looking for a copper-bottomed assurance, I say once again that that deadline is it. We—as well as, indeed, the failsafe mechanism—are attempting to ensure that we end up with the desired result in May 2000.

Putting that aside, I commend to the Government amendment No. 2, which I tabled. This is a matter of process. Clause 1 is so drafted that it requires the Decommissioning Commission to report a failure but not to specify its exact nature. Amendment No. 2 would put that right. Suggesting that may sound a little pedantic, but given the absolute necessity for us to be extremely clear at every point in our deliberations and, given the danger of any latitude in the Bill's terminology, I ask the Government to take seriously those five or six words, which would tidy up exactly what the Decommissioning Commission is expected to report.

Mr. Wilshire

I was desperately keen to make a speech on Second Reading about the prostitution of democracy by allowing armed terrorists into government, but sadly, I was not called. I suspect that, if I tried to make such a speech now, I would promptly be ruled out of order. I shall therefore resist that temptation and speak instead to amendments Nos. 31 and 33, which stand in my name.

Amendment No. 31 would achieve what other people have tried to achieve: confirm a timetable specifying when things must happen. Amendment No. 33 would specify what must happen before any sanctions that are imposed can be lifted.

In fairness, I should remind the Committee that I voted against both the Good Friday agreement and Second Reading. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about where I am coming from. None the less, I accept the democratic will of the majority, which is of course more than one can say about Sinn Fein-IRA. The key reason for being against both the Good Friday agreement and this Bill is that they duck the issue of decommissioning. The Good Friday agreement fudged the question in the hope that it would go away—but it has not—and the Bill tries to do exactly the same.

I have listened intently throughout these debates to what others have said, and note that the Bill is supposed to provide a failsafe guarantee that decommissioning will occur. But, on Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that the Government do not control the timetable—I believe that those were her words. I also listened carefully to the explanation that General de Chastelain controls the timetable. Then I heard it explained that General de Chastelain has not specified a timetable. Rather than going down the route of what exactly he did say, I shall leave it to the words of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who spelled out in detail exactly General de Chastelain's real position.

In the end, all that I have to go on are the words of the Prime Minister. If I understand him correctly, he has told us several times that, if we pass this Bill, there will be a commitment to disarm within days and a start to proper decommissioning within weeks, to be completed by May 2000.

For the purpose of the debate, I am prepared to take the Prime Minister at his word. That is why I have tabled amendment No. 31. The Prime Minister said that there will be a commitment within days, and I take days to mean less than a week. If the agreement comes into effect on the 15th, I see no reason why we should not specify 22 July, which is days away, not a week, for a commitment. If that is what we are being offered, surely we can write it down.

We were told that there will be a real start within weeks. To me, weeks mean less than a month. If there is to be a start within weeks, that means that it must be before 15 August, which is why I put that date in my amendment. If the Prime Minister is telling us the truth, there is no harm in accepting the amendment.

We are told also—it is in the Good Friday agreement—that the completion of decommissioning will be by May 2000. It therefore seems simple to me to specify 30 April. That is how I arrived at that date.

Tokenism will not do.

Mr. Mallon

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the date specified in the agreement is 22 May 2000.

Mr. Wilshire

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and he is right to correct me. If I could table an amendment to an amendment, I would willingly accommodate him. I hope that he accepts that the principle applies. Instead of 30 April—

Mr. Mallon

I made the point because the hon. Gentleman so clearly stated what days and weeks mean to him. The one date that we could be accurate about is the one specified in the agreement, which the hon. Gentleman got wrong.

Mr. Wilshire

We are old sparring partners and I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and take it on the chin. I shall not pursue the matter, but I shall pursue the issue of tokenism.

It is crucial that we do not say that a start equals one bullet. It seemed logical to me to specify 25 per cent. of all arms by 15 August, but it could be another figure. If the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) wanted to challenge me on that, I would allow him to do so.

Amendment No. 33 deals with what must happen before any breach of the conditions can be rectified. Clause 2 merely provides that the Secretary of State can specify when the process comes to an end. That is not good enough. There must be clear indications of what has to happen before the Secretary of State can use the powers set out in the Bill. The date in the amendment is wrong, so if the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh wants another go, I shall willingly give way to him.

We have been told today, and before, that we are within an ace of success and that there is only one more concession to make, just one more leap in the dark, and we shall be there. I do not like taking risks of this sort. I do not like leaps in the dark. That being so, my amendments are designed to provide a little more illumination.

Although even contemplating the possibility of allowing armed terrorists into government sticks in my craw because it undermines everything in which I believe, if the House of Commons is determined to go down that track, I believe that we must be clear about what it is that we mean, and clear about the timetable. If the Government genuinely want a failsafe guarantee to everyone in this place, they will specify a timetable. If they will not do that, I can conclude only that, once agam, the Government are ducking and weaving and trying to make more concessions to terror.

10.15 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy

The Government want decommissioning and a timetable. The best way to achieve both is to do what is set out in the Bill. The essence of the argument concerns the role of the independent commission. From the beginning of the process, and certainly from the time that the Good Friday agreement was concluded and put to the people of Northern Ireland, who in a referendum agreed on decommissioning just as they agreed on the other parts, the intention was that decommissioning should be in the hands of an independent commission.

We all know that the authority, integrity and wisdom of General de Chastelain and his colleagues are not in question. They have spent many months considering in enormous detail how they can deal with the problem of decommissioning—the modalities and so on.

Trust and confidence have been mentioned by many speakers in this short debate. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said that the last hurdle was decommissioning. I think that the last hurdle is trust, although decommissioning is part of it. The only way in which we will ensure that the terms of the agreement are implemented is by putting in place a genuinely independent commission.

That Independent Commission on Decommissioning must set the parameters and specify how decommissioning is to be carried out. Why do we say that? There are two reasons. One is that that is set out in the agreement. The other is that all parties to the agreement wanted the commission to be independent because they would not trust us as a Government, any more than loyalists would trust the Irish Government as a Government. Our only hope of success in decommissioning is to ensure that the commission is genuinely independent of Government, although it reports to Governments, and that it sets the parameters.

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is rightly laying great stress on the role of the commission. Can he tell the House, now or later, whether the decisions of the commission are subject to judicial review? In other words, are the decisions of the commission final or are they open to review in the courts, with all the consequences that might follow?

Mr. Murphy

I shall return to the matter, but my initial reaction—I speak to a lawyer who is much more qualified than I am in these matters—is that the commission's decisions are subject to review.

The agreement, as has often been said, is not a legal document. It is a political document. People voted for it because they thought that an agreement would bring them peace and stability. The question is how we can establish a commission that will attract the trust and confidence of those who must decommission, and those who want decommissioning to take place.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He is making the case that the commission is independent. The case has been made on previous occasions that the Government do not seek to influence the commission's judgments. That leaves me with a concern. Do the Government have any view on the timetable, or are they neutered on this fundamental issue? If they cannot lean on, or advise, or seek to persuade, the commission, and the decision is purely for the commission, is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that, instead of supporting a timetable, as the Opposition do, he is moving even further—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Too long.

Mr. Murphy

I shall deal with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, because it is important to state where the Government stand. Let me return to the independence of the commission, and how that was reflected in the negotiations two or three weeks ago. Schedule 2 is entitled "Text of the Joint Statement". Paragraph 3 refers to the devolution order, and paragraph 4, which refers to the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, says that the Commission will have urgent discussions with the groups' points of contact. The Commission will specify that actual decommissioning is to start within a specified time. They will report progress in September and December 1999 and May 2000. Perhaps more significant is the commission's report, which was presented during the week of negotiations. Paragraph 21 says: While the Commission is prepared to define a detailed timetable for decommissioning of arms by the main paramilitary groups, it believes this will best be achieved in discussions with the groups' various points of contact. Once such a timetable has been worked out, paramilitary groups will be expected to adhere to it to ensure completion by 22 May 2000, and the Commission will report on progress to the two Governments.

Mr. Donaldson

Is the Minister saying that the timetable will be determined by the Independent Commission on Decommissioning, which will negotiate that timetable with the terrorist organisations?

Mr. Murphy

I am saying that the commission itself has worked out how best it can achieve its ends. It is saying to us that the best way to achieve those ends is finding the points of contact, ensuring that they are in place and discussing with them how best to proceed. I know that the hon. Gentleman is going to say, "Ah, they will do their best to prolong all this to ensure that it does not come within any specified time." All of us in the Chamber would agree that there has to be speed in this matter. The general himself said in his press statement that the process should begin within days—the person concerned should be identified and the modalities construed—and, after that, the first actual decommissioning should take place within weeks. Within that, he also specified September, December and May as dates for reporting progress.

The Bill also ensures that the failsafe mechanism will come into operation at any point in between should the commission report that commitments are not being fulfilled. It seems to me that that absolutely ensures that decommissioning is achievable, and properly achievable, within the time limit. That is what General de Chastelain is saying, but it is important to understand that he also said that decommissioning could not be achieved in its entirety by May 2000 unless a start was made now. That is in the report; it clearly refers to the timing, scheduling and timetabling of decommissioning, for which he is responsible.

Mr. Robert McCartney


Mr. Murphy

Before I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to intervene, I must say to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) that he is a much better lawyer than I am. My understanding now is that the commission is immune from judicial review. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. There are too many conversations going on and the Minister should be heard.

Mr. Murphy

I give way to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney).

Mr. McCartney

Paragraph 21 of the commission's report indeed says: The Commission believes that the detailed modalities, the timetable, and the commencement of actual decommissioning should be agreed with the paramilitary groups as soon as possible. The Minister has said that that might take place within days, but will the failure of the commission to agree those matters within days constitute a breach of the agreement?

Mr. Murphy

The chairman of the commission will have to report to the Government and the Government will surely have to ensure that the failsafe mechanism operates if seriousness is not present and the chairman says, "Look, we are not getting anywhere and nothing is happening." One of the purposes of this process is to test people's seriousness about decommissioning and how it should occur.

Mr. Tom King

The right hon. Gentleman refers to testing the seriousness of those involved. In General de Chastelain's report, which accompanied the recent statement by the Prime Minister, the commission asked 10 political parties to confirm their views. It asked: Is the paramilitary group willing to give the Commission a firm basis for expecting that decommissioning will take place within the timescale set forth in the Good Friday Agreement? The commission said that there were no responses to that question from either the IRA or the UDA. That is what concerns us.

The Secretary of State did not hear my earlier contribution. I believe that General de Chastelain is entitled to get reinforcement from the House, which should provide a proper framework that does not put the whole responsibility on him, because that is an unreasonable weight to bear. The House should give him a time scale that enables him to assert the independence of his commission and to establish fair rules within a framework that the House has agreed.

Mr. Murphy

In his report, the general makes it clear how best he will be able to achieve decommissioning. He says that the best way is to define a timetable for the main paramilitary groups. The commission believes this will best be achieved in discussions with the groups' various points of contact. He is not going to be dictated to by those groups. He consults and discusses matters with them, but he and his two colleagues will, for their own integrity if nothing else, report to the Government on precisely how far the groups have gone. This legislation will come in at that stage.

We must understand that, unless we respect that integrity and independence, we will not achieve decommissioning. Only through an independent commission will it be possible.

Mr. Thompson

The right hon. Gentleman has made much of the independence of the commission. The commission has already said that the first stage could take place in days, which is less than a week, and the second stage could take place in weeks, which is less than a month. If we were to put those dates on the statute, surely that would not impinge on the commission's independence.

Mr. Murphy

I do not know why we think that we can do it better than General de Chastelain. The agreement explained why we must have an independent body to deal with the issue. That independent body has already produced its report. Its chairman has said that decommissioning could start in days. We have also provided a failsafe mechanism.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) made a number of detailed points to which I should reply. He is right to say that subsection (1) bites after devolution. That is when the Secretary of State can act. Subsection (6) makes it clear that the commitments arise from the agreement or the joint statement.

The right hon. Gentleman also drew the House's attention to the decommissioning scheme under the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997, which lays down how the process is to proceed. Paragraph 7 of the scheme says that it starts when someone approaches the commission on behalf of a paramilitary organisation and convinces it of the organisation' s intention to decommission.

Under paragraph 8, that person acts in accordance with the scheme only if he complies with all its requirements. That links in with sub-paragraphs (1)(a)(i) and (ii). Once an organisation has made a commitment to decommission, if it breaches that commitment, it is caught under (1)(a)(i) or (1)(a)(ii) if at any time it does not take any step specified by the commission, such as one required under a scheme.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to paragraph 12 of the decommissioning scheme. The commission's ability to lay down a timetable does depends not just on that paragraph, but on the general duty to facilitate decommissioning. In the report, the commission made it clear that it is prepared to lay down such a timetable.

We must leave it to the independence of the commission and the integrity of its chairman. When these negotiations took place, all the people concerned realised that decommissioning had to be carried out in a specified time. We all know that. Let us ensure that that happens.

10.30 pm

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 145, Noes 352.

Division No. 236] [10.30 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Gran, James
Amess, David Curry, Rt Hon David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baldry, Tony Duncan, Alan
Beggs, Roy Duncan Smith, Iain
Bercow, John Evans, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Faber, David
Blunt, Crispin Fabricant, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Flight, Howard
Boswell, Tim Forsythe, Clifford
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brazier, Julian Fox, Dr Liam
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fraser, Christopher
Browning, Mrs Angela Gale, Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Garnier, Edward
Butterfill, John Gibb, Nick
Chapman, Sir Sydney Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
(Chipping Barnet) Gray, James
Chope, Christopher Green, Damian
Clappison, James Greenway, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Grieve, Dominic
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Collins, Tim Hammond, Philip
Colvin, Michael Hawkins, Nick
Cormack, Sir Patrick Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Ruffley, David
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) St Aubyn, Nick
Hunter, Andrew Sayeed, Jonathan
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Shepherd, Richard
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Johnson Smith, Soames, Nicholas
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Key, Robert Spicer, Sir Michael
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Spring, Richard
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lansley, Andrew Steen, Anthony
Leigh, Edward Streeter, Gary
Letwin, Oliver Swayne, Desmond
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Syms, Robert
Lidington, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Loughton, Tim Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Luff, Peter Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Thompson, William
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Townend, John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tredinnick, David
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Trend, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Trimble, Rt Hon David
Madel, Sir David Tyrie, Andrew
Malins, Humfrey Viggers, Peter
Mates, Michael Walter, Robert
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Wardle, Charles
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Waterson, Nigel
May, Mrs Theresa Wells, Bowen
Moss, Malcolm Whitney, Sir Raymond
Nicholls, Patrick Whittingdale, John
Ottaway, Richard Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Page, Richard Wilkinson, John
Paice, James Willetts, David
Paisley, Rev Ian Wilshire, David
Pickles, Eric Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Prior, David Woodward, Shaun
Randall, John Yeo, Tim
Redwood, Rt Hon John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Tellers for the Ayes:
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume) Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Boateng, Paul
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Alexander, Douglas Brake, Tom
Allan, Richard Breed, Colin
Allen, Graham Brinton, Mrs Helen
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Ashton, Joe Browne, Desmond
Atkins, Charlotte Burden, Richard
Austin, John Burnett, John
Banks, Tony Butler, Mrs Christine
Barnes, Harry Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Barron, Kevin Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Battle, John Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Beard, Nigel Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cann, Jamie
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Caplin, Ivor
Bennett, Andrew F Casale, Roger
Bermingham, Gerald Caton, Martin
Berry, Roger Cawsey, Ian
Best, Harold Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Betts, Clive Chaytor, David
Blackman, Liz Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Grogan, John
Clark, Dr Lynda Gunnell, John
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Hain, Peter
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hancock, Mike
Clwyd, Ann Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Coaker, Vernon Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Coffey, Ms Ann Healey, John
Cohen, Harry Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Coleman, Iain Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Colman, Tony Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Connarty, Michael Hepburn, Stephen
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Heppell, John
Corbett, Robin Hesford, Stephen
Corbyn, Jeremy Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Corston, Ms Jean Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cousins, Jim Hoey, Kate
Cox, Tom Home Robertson, John
Cranston, Ross Hood, Jimmy
Crausby, David Hoon, Geoffrey
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hopkins, Kelvin
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cummings, John Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howells, Dr Kim
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dalyell, Tam Hume, John
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hutton, John
Darvill, Keith Illsley, Eric
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dawson, Hilton Jamieson, David
Dean, Mrs Janet Jenkins, Brian
Dismore, Andrew Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dobbin, Jim Johnson, Miss Melanie
Donohoe, Brian H (Welwyn Hatfield)
Doran, Frank Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Ms Jenny
Edwards, Huw (Wolverh'ton SW)
Efford, Clive Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Ennis, Jeff Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Etherington, Bill Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Fisher, Mark Keeble, Ms Sally
Fitzsimons, Lorna Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Flint, Caroline Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Flynn, Paul Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Follett, Barbara Khabra, Piara S
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kidney, David
Foster, Don (Bath) Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Foulkes, George Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fyfe, Maria Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Galloway, George Laxton, Bob
Gapes, Mike Leslie, Christopher
Gardiner, Barry Levitt, Tom
George, Andrew (St Ives) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Gibson, Dr Ian Linton, Martin
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lock, David
Godman, Dr Norman A Love, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger McAllion, John
Golding, Mrs Llin McAvoy, Thomas
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McCabe, Steve
Gorrie, Donald McCafferty, Ms Chris
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Siobhain Raynsford, Nick
Macdonald, Calum Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McDonnell, John Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
McFall, John Robertson, Rt Hon George
McGrady, Eddie (Hamilton S)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Roche, Mrs Barbara
McIsaac, Shona Rooker, Jeff
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Rooney, Terry
Mackinlay, Andrew Rowlands, Ted
McNamara, Kevin Roy, Frank
McNulty, Tony Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
MacShane, Denis Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Mactaggart, Fiona Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McWalter, Tony Ryan, Ms Joan
McWilliam, John Salter, Martin
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sanders, Adrian
Mallaber, Judy Sarwar, Mohammad
Mallon, Seamus Sawford, Phil
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Shaw, Jonathan
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Short, Rt Hon Clare
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Martlew, Eric Singh, Marsha
Maxton, John Skinner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Merron, Gillian Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milbum, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Mitchell, Austin Soley, Clive
Moffatt, Laura Southworth, Ms Helen
Moonie, Dr Lewis Squire, Ms Rachel
Moran, Ms Margaret Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stevenson, George
Morley, Elliot Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Stinchcombe, Paul
Mudie, George Stoate, Dr Howard
Mullin, Chris Stott, Roger
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Naysmith, Dr Doug Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill(Normanton) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) (Dewsbury)
O'Hara, Eddie Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Olner, Bill Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Öpik, Lembit Tipping, Paddy
Organ, Mrs Diana Todd, Mark
Osborne, Ms Sandra Touhig, Don
Palmer, Dr Nick Trickett, Jon
Pearson, Ian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pendry, Tom Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Perham, Ms Linda Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pickthall, Colin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pike, Peter L Tyler, Paul
Plaskitt, James Vaz, Keith
Pollard, Kerry Vis, Dr Rudi
Pond, Chris Wareing, Robert N
Pope, Greg Watts, David
Pound, Stephen Webb, Steve
Powell, Sir Raymond Welsh, Andrew
White, Brian
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wicks, Malcolm
Prescott, Rt Hon John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Primarolo, Dawn (Swansea W)
Prosser, Gwyn Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Purchase, Ken Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Quinn, Lawrie Willis, Phil
Rammell, Bill Winnick, David
Rapson, Syd Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike Wyatt, Derek
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Mr. David Hanson and
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock) Mr. Keith Hill.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. MacKay

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 19, leave out from 'Assembly' to end of line 21.

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

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 37, in page 1, line 19, leave out ', except as provided by section 3,'. Amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 23, after second `Minister' insert 'under sections 18 and 19 of the 1998 Act other than in accordance with section 3;'. Amendment No. 14, in page 2, leave out lines 8 to 10.

Amendment No. 15, in page 2, line 8, after `practicable' insert 'but no later than 7 days'. Amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 9, leave out from `shall' to end of line 10 and insert 'serve notice on the Presiding Officer requiring him to move a motion for resolution under section 30(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.'. Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 9, leave out 'take steps to'.

Amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 10, at end insert 'within four weeks of a suspension order being made.'. Amendment No. 38, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (2).

Amendment No. 19, in, page 2, line 33, leave out from `account' to end of line 34 and insert 'the proceedings of the Assembly under section 3;'. Amendment No. 20, in clause 3, page 3, line 8, leave out from 'call' to end of line 9 and insert 'a meeting of the Assembly within 7 days of the making of the suspension order and such further meetings as he considers appropriate.'. Amendment No. 21, in page 3, leave out lines 10 to 19 and insert— '(2). Unless the Assembly resolves otherwise on a cross-community basis, a party in respect of which the Decommissioning Commission has reported under section 1 shall be disregarded for the purposes of subsections (4) to (6) of section 4 as if that party had been the subject of a resolution of the Assembly under section 30(2) of the 1998 Act.'. Amendment No. 22, in page 3, line 11, leave out from `debate' to end of line 15 and insert 'a motion for resolution under section 30(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. (2A) In the event of a resolution under section 30(2) the Secretary of State shall implement the requirements under section 18(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.'. Amendment No. 34, in page 3, line 11, leave out 'but not' and insert 'and, if it chooses,'.

Amendment No. 23, in page 3, line 15, at end insert— '(3) The review shall take no longer than three months.'. Amendment No. 24, in page 3, line 16, leave out subsection (3) and insert— '(3) Following the implementation of section 18(2) the second meeting shall be held within 7 days and at that meeting the Assembly shall debate any action proposed to be taken in consequence of that implementation.'. Amendment No. 35, in page 3, line 18, after 'and' insert `if it chooses'.

Clause 3 stand part.

Amendment No. 28, in schedule 1, page 8, line 11, at end insert— '4A.—(1) During a suspension period the Secretary of State may by notice served on the Presiding Officer authorise the Assembly to meet at such times and to conduct such business as may be specified in the notice. (2) For the purposes of sub—paragraph (1) the Assembly Standing Orders shall have effect subject to such modifications as may be specified in the notice'. New clause 3—Review process'Within seven days of the conclusion of the review conducted under the Validation, Implementation and Review section of the Belfast Agreement, the Secretary of State shall call a meeting of the Assembly for the purpose of giving effect to any action within its competence which may have been agreed within the review.'.

Mr. MacKay

As I said on Second Reading, we believe that the Prime Minister promised—outside Castle buildings, Stormont; in The Sunday Times article; and in his statement last week to the House—several failsafes that, mysteriously and sadly, do not appear in the legislation, therefore making the Bill incomplete. The failsafes—as the Prime Minister likes to call them; or the copper-bottomed safeguards, as I should prefer to call them—are just not in the Bill.

This final set of amendments, which we believe would create a copper-bottomed failsafe, is based on a simple premise. The Bill currently provides—I cannot believe that the Minister believes that it should do so—that, if any paramilitary organisation, whether loyalist or republican, fails to meet its decommissioning obligations under General de Chastelain's timetable—when he eventually publishes it—the penalty will be a suspension of both the Executive and the Assembly.

We will have the bizarre situation of one group failing to fulfil its obligations, and everyone else getting penalised. I can think of no other law or regulation under which those who get hurt or penalised are the innocent parties who have done nothing wrong.

10.45 pm
Mr. Ian Taylor.(Esher and Walton)

Is my right hon. Friend implying that, if the decommissioning body decided that one side or another had breached the terms, the whole process would rewind, rather than continue? I believed that the Prime Minister had indicated in his statement to the House after the Belfast talks that the process would continue without the offending party.

Mr. MacKay

Like my hon. Friend, I was here in the House when the Prime Minister made his statement a week last Monday. I recall that the Prime Minister said categorically that only those who had breached the decommissioning timetable would be penalised. To give an extreme example, the LVF might refuse to decommission and, in so doing, would bring down the Executive and the Assembly. I repeat to my hon. Friend that that is bizarre and wrong.

Under the amendment, if the Provisional IRA failed to decommission within the timetable and failed to fulfil its obligations, Sinn Fein would be immediately excluded from the Executive. However, the Executive would remain in place and, after a reasonable period, the d'Hondt formula would be triggered again so that there would be two new Ministers replacing the two excluded Sinn Fein Ministers.

That way, there would be a continued devolved Administration and Executive in the Province, and all the constitutional parties—who will have fulfilled their obligations—would not be penalised. Surely that is the right way forward, and it is the copper-bottomed safeguard that Unionists and others require to ensure that they can go safely into an Executive with Sinn Fein Ministers, knowing either that the Provisional IRA will decommission its illegally held arms and explosives quickly or that Sinn Fein will be removed from the Executive. They will not be in the invidious position of having to share ministerial responsibility with men of violence who are retaining a fully armed paramilitary organisation.

If the Minister of State wants the process to succeed—and if, as I know that he does, he wants a lasting devolved Administration for Northern Ireland with the most inclusive ministerial team possible under the d'Hondt formula—it is essential that he accepts the amendment. Then, Unionists and others would have a copper-bottomed guarantee that, by taking ministerial appointments ahead of decommissioning, there will be either decommissioning or the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the Executive. It is simple, straightforward and right and, at this late hour, I plead with the Minister to accept the amendment.

Mr. Mallon

I went to some lengths on Second Reading to state that the review was the only way within the agreement under which, in accord with the agreement, an examination could be made of the reasons why a default was made by anyone who had contravened the commitment given in terms of either decommissioning or the non-working of devolution. I do not wish to repeat what I said then, but it is essential to point out that, if we are going to be consistent with the agreement, that review must be in place, and no other mechanism must be used until a mechanism is decided at that review.

If we do not have a suspension, we might end up in the anomalous situation in which Ministers whose party was under consideration in the review for having reneged or defaulted participated in that review as acting Ministers. Is that the situation that we want?

I do not want to see the suspension of institutions that I have helped in some small way to set up. I do not want to see any blockage in the working of the new Executive, which I hope will be set up this week, but I want to try to preserve the agreement, above all else, because it transcends any Opposition party position, or any Unionist position, or any position that might be adopted by us, this Government or the Irish Government. It supersedes all those considerations and that is why I believe that we must act in accord with the review, to be at one with the agreement.

The purpose of new clause 3 is simple. It is to ensure that the Bill before us accurately implements "The Way Forward" document that was decided by the two Prime Ministers. Paragraph 5 of that document provides that, if the commitments in relation to devolution or decommissioning are not met, the Governments will automatically, and with immediate effect, suspend the operation of the institutions set up by the Agreement. Suspension must therefore apply to all institutions in the same way. The Bill fails to achieve that.

The Bill provides that functions in relation to the North-South Ministerial Council and the new British-Irish Council shall not be exercisable. That means that the Councils cannot convene or operate. By contrast, clause 3 provides that the Assembly not only can but must convene and operate, so we are faced with an illogical absurdity. On the one hand, the Bill suspends the Assembly and on the other it requires it to meet twice while in suspension.

The first of those meetings is to be held within seven days to debate the situation that led to the suspension order and the review. Can one imagine what purpose that debate would serve? Would it have an adverse effect on the subsequent review? Would it encourage posturing and increased rancour? Would it divert the parties from what must be their essential task at that time—to work constructively within the review? I believe that it would have a tremendously detrimental effect. One can imagine the rancour that could be generated in such a debate.

The debate would have no ending, because there would be no vote. It would carry no responsibilities, because the Assembly would be suspended even though it was required to meet by order of the Secretary of State. The Bill provides that the second time that the Assembly meets must be before the suspension period has ended, to debate and vote on any action proposed to be taken in consequence of the review. If an institution is to be suspended, is it not ridiculous for it to meet and vote during its suspension? All that is necessary is that, after the suspension period, the Assembly should meet to implement the conclusions of the review. Any meeting of the Assembly during a suspension period would contradict the terms of the document "The Way Forward", laid down by the two Prime Ministers at the end of the most recent negotiations.

The amendments make it clear that the Assembly should not meet during the review. Only after the review has been concluded should the Assembly meet to debate and vote on measures then within its competence. If the amendments were accepted, the Bill would then be in accordance with "The Way Forward" document and with the agreement.

That is the only way in which all the institutions established by the Good Friday agreement can be treated on an equal basis, as the agreement requires. The proposals in the Bill would favour the Assembly over all other institutions in a way that would be remarkably detrimental to debates and to the taking of decisions that are outside its competence in terms of the review. New clause 3 would bring the Bill back to the terms of the Good Friday agreement and the document "The Way Forward". I hope that the two Governments will consider it carefully.

Although I cannot be sure, I suspect that I know why the Bill has been drafted as it has. I shall leave the Government with one last thought. There is an old saying in County Armagh, where I live, that is used often. It holds that nothing is ever enough for those for whom enough is always too little. That should be pondered seriously in relation to clause 3.

Mr. Öpik

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) referred to copper bottoms and failsafes. When is a copper bottom not a failsafe? What is a failsafe's bottom made of? I fear that if we use such terms too much, the public will give us the bum's rush, which may be made of copper or something else.

The collective effect of amendments Nos. 8 and 28, as set out by the right hon. Member for Bracknell, would not necessarily be what he intends. There is a possibility that the Assembly would end up running on an ad hoc basis. I am worried that it would sit on and off, according to official notices, and that it would rattle along without being master of its destiny but without being fully suspended. However, I know there is an underlying feeling that all sides should not be punished if one side fails to deliver. I can see some case for that proposition, but I look forward to hearing what other hon. Members have to say about it.

None of the various approaches adopted hitherto have been very effective, and we must now recognise that we face a true deadline. That deadline must not slip, nor must it be so half-hearted that it can be negotiated around. A clear suspension at least has the benefit that it is unequivocal and less open to abuse.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 would specify the terms of the review. Amendment No. 17 would omit from clause 1 the phrase "take steps to", although I understand why the Minister felt those words to be necessary. If amendment No. 17 were successful, clause 1(4) would state that the Secretary of State would initiate a review under the validation, implementation and review section of the Belfast agreement rather than merely taking steps to do so. Notwithstanding the reasons for inclusion in the Bill of the vague words "take steps to", that would make the clause clearer.

11 pm

Amendment No. 18 deals with timing. The Bill specifies no time within which the review must take place. If we do not set a deadline, we risk an open-ended start date for the review. The danger is that time will stretch while the review goes uninitiated for some reason. I note that amendment No. 15 also seeks to set a deadline: it suggests seven days, and my amendment suggests four weeks: I do not mind how long it actually is so long as the period is defined.

Amendment No. 23 suggests that the review should have an upper time limit of three months. Again, the length of time matters less than the fact of its limitation. If we do not limit it, the process may stall as we wait for the result of the review. One of the Bill's weaknesses is the lack of a specified time duration for the review. We have seen how deadlines can slip, and enshrining them in the Bill would provide a powerful failsafe against ending up in the quagmire of a never-ending review.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) succinctly expressed the arguments for the amendments that he and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) have tabled. However, I dare to suggest that I can summarise them even more briefly: it is entirely unacceptable that everything should be suspended when what we should be demanding is the expulsion of offenders. It defies reason and logic to proceed down the Government's path.

In this debate, as on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has totally failed to convince. It simply is not good enough for the Social Democratic and Labour party—even it can rightly boast about standing for democracy and against violence—to hide behind collective decisions, the findings of reviews and wide generalities. The hon. Gentleman has failed to say what the SDLP would do if the IRA did not abide by a decommissioning schedule. His party, much to its discredit, cannot answer that question and refuses to do so.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment should be rejected because, among other reasons, it inspires a sense of déjà vu. The initiative begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and Lord Mayhew was scuppered by the SDLP because the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) had in mind a bigger picture—the inclusion of the IRA—and one feels that one is seeing an action replay of those events. Members of the SDLP are not prepared to answer a direct question. One fears that one knows the reasons why.

Mr. Mallon

I spent some considerable time on Second Reading giving the answer to that very question, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). I took on the points that he raised directly. I am prepared to repeat those so that the hon. Gentleman can understand what I am saying, but I am not sure that it would be fair to all the other hon. Members who were present during the Second Reading debate to take up time at this stage.

I know that the hon. Gentleman sometimes finds it difficult to understand Northern Irish politics, despite his practise at it. I will spend any time that he wants with him, privately or publicly, to show him that, in effect, we are not going to bow to pressure from either side, whether it is Sinn Fein or Unionist.

Mr. Hunter

The hon. Gentleman obliges and, once again, fails to give a direct answer, although the implications are obvious. The question that the SDLP continues to refuse to answer is whether it will support the continuation of Sinn Fein in the Executive in the event that the IRA does not abide by a decommissioning schedule—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The answer is not forthcoming. We must draw our own conclusions from that. I rest my case. The amendment of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh is as deficient as the rest of his argument on the entire process.

Mr. Paul Murphy

The whole purpose of this failsafe is suspension and there is an obvious reason for it. As I have said many times this evening, the situation in Northern Ireland is different from anywhere else. The Assembly is based on the agreement, which in itself is based on the concord—the agreement between Unionism and nationalism. It will not work otherwise and we all know that. If we think for one second that we can have an Assembly in Belfast that is like the one in Cardiff, we are fooling ourselves. It is not going to work like that.

Mr. Beggs

Try it.

Mr. Murphy

We cannot try it. As the hon. Member knows, this matter was put to the people. They believed that this was the best way forward to achieve that result.

If we accept that as a reality—I think that we must—clearly, if we find that the commitment on devolution or on decommissioning is not met, we will have to suspend the institutions of the agreement. As we outlined, those institutions are the Executive, the Assembly, and the north-south and east-west bodies. Clearly, one would then have to go to the review that is set out in the agreement.

The Bill also makes additional provisions—some that are not particularly pleasing to my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and some that are not particularly pleasing to Ulster Unionist Members. So we may well have got it right this time—who knows?

The Bill states: The first meeting shall be held within 7 days of the making of the suspension order; and at that meeting the Assembly shall debate, but not vote on— (a) the situation that led to the making of the suspension order; and (b) the matters which fall to be reviewed under…the Belfast Agreement. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) rightly referred to the difficult situation with loyalist decommissioning, particularly as loyalism—in this sense—would have no members of the Executive, or in some cases even Members of the Assembly, who could be put out of it; yet if, as General de Chastelain's commission said, the Loyalist Volunteer Force or the Ulster Defence Association, for the sake of argument, failed to decommission and that was reported to the Government, the process would still come into operation. How do we show that the whole apparatus of government in Northern Ireland will have to be dealt with in the same way as those who are represented on its Executive will be? That is one good reason why the Assembly should meet.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has powers to call the Assembly and to limit the time of its meeting, so that it will not go on endlessly—as one hon. Member suggested. The limit would be set by the Secretary of State and common sense would prevail. For example, if a loyalist group with no Assembly or Executive members had failed to decommission, we should not want the whole apparatus to be suspended for any length of time. However, it is important that the Assembly should deal with the issue and discuss it, and that the review should take place of how to deal with that non-decommissioning.

It would be different if the IRA did not decommission, because Sinn Fein would be in government. That would clearly be more difficult to deal with; that is where the operation of the agreement comes in. It states that the two Governments and all the parties who sit in the Assembly—whether or not they are in favour of the agreement—will review where we go next. That will be the same—whether the effect is exclusion, expulsion or suspension. People will have to get round the table and find a way out of the impasse, deadlock or crisis in the process.

That is why we cannot exclude specifically through the measure. We cannot prejudge or determine what the review will do, because it will include representatives of all the Unionist parties in the Assembly and of the two Governments. If the report was so dramatic, the review would deal with the matter and decide how to continue, under the arrangements in the agreement. Whatever happens, we must undertake that review under the terms of the agreement.

It would be a good idea to have a meeting of the Assembly after a review. The Assembly would have the opportunity to debate and to vote on the results of a particular review. The most important reassurance for Unionists—indeed for all of us—would be that the suspension would be automatic. There is no doubt that, as soon as the commission reports difficulty, the suspension becomes automatic. If we were to use the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and the Assembly voted for the exclusion of a party from the Executive, the Executive would have to be suspended; d'Hondt would have to be invoked and the excluded Ministers would have to be replaced. The effect would be the same in both cases. However, the measure is in the spirit of the agreement; it allows for automatic suspension and for review. It also allows us to deal with the more difficult issues of loyalists who fail to decommission.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 144, Noes 340.

Division No. 237] [11.12 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Duncan, Alan
Amess, David Duncan Smith, Iain
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Evans, Nigel
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Faber, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fabricant, Michael
Baldry, Tony Flight, Howard
Beggs, Roy Forsythe, Clifford
Bercow, John Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Beresford, Sir Paul Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Blunt, Crispin Fox, Dr Liam
Body, Sir Richard Fraser, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Gibb, Nick
Brazier, Julian Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gray, James
Browning, Mrs Angela Green, Damian
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Greenway, John
Butterfill, John Grieve, Dominic
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Chope, Christopher Hammond, Philip
Clappison, James Hawkins, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Collins, Tim Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Colvin, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Cormack, Sir Patrick Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Cran, James Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Curry, Rt Hon David Jenkin, Bernard
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Key, Robert
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Shepherd, Richard
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Lansley, Andrew Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Leigh, Edward Soames, Nicholas
Letwin, Oliver Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Spicer, Sir Michael
Lidington, David Spring, Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
LIoyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Steen, Anthony
Loughton, Tim Streeter, Gary
Luff, Peter Swayne, Desmond
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Syms, Robert
McCartney, Robert (N Down) Tapsell, Sir Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maginnis, Ken Thompson, William
Malins, Humfrey Townend, John
Mates, Michael Tredinnick, David
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Trend, Michael
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Tyrie, Andrew
May, Mrs Theresa Viggers, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Wardle, Charles
Nicholls, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Ottaway, Richard Wells, Bowen
Page, Richard Whitney, Sir Raymond
Paice, James Whittingdale, John
Paisley, Rev Ian Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Pickles, Eric Wilkinson, John
Prior, David Willetts, David
Randall, John Wilshire, David
Redwood, Rt Hon John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Robathan, Andrew Woodward, Shaun
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Yeo, Tim
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Tellers for the Ayes:
Ruffley, David Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
St Aubyn, Nick and
Sayeed, Jonathan Mr. Stephen Day.
Abbott, Ms Diane Breed, Colin
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ainger, Nick Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Alexander, Douglas Browne, Desmond
Allan, Richard Burden, Richard
Allen, Graham Burnett, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Butler, Mrs Christine
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Ashton, Joe Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Austin, John Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Banks, Tony Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin Campbell-Savours, Dale
Battle, John Cann, Jamie
Beard, Nigel Caplin, Ivor
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Casale, Roger
Begg, Miss Anne Caton, Martin
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cawsey, Ian
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Chaytor, David
Bennett, Andrew F Chisholm, Malcolm
Bermingham, Gerald Clapham, Michael
Berry, Roger Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Best, Harold Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Boateng, Paul Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Clelland, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Clwyd, Ann
Brake, Tom Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann Hesford, Stephen
Cohen, Harry Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Coleman, Iain Hodge, Ms Margaret
Colman, Tony Hoey, Kate
Connarty, Michael Home Robertson, John
Corbett, Robin Hood, Jimmy
Corbyn, Jeremy Hoon, Geoffrey
Corston, Ms Jean Hopkins, Kelvin
Cox, Tom Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cranston, Ross Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Crausby, David Howells, Dr Kim
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cryer, John (Hornchunch) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cummings, John Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hutton, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Illsley, Eric
(Copeland) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Dalyell, Tarn Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jamieson, David
Darvill, Keith Jenkins, Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Miss Melanie
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dismore, Andrew Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Dobbin, Jim Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dowd, Jim Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Edwards, Huw Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Efford, Clive Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ellman, Mrs Louise Keeble, Ms Sally
Ennis, Jeff Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Fisher, Mark Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Khabra, Piara S
Flint, Caroline Kidney, David
Flynn, Paul Kilfoyle, Peter
Follett, Barbara King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Foster, Don (Bath) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Foulkes, George Leslie, Christopher
Fyfe, Maria Levitt, Tom
Galloway, George Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gapes, Mike Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Gardiner, Barry Linton, Martin
George, Andrew (St Ives) Llwyd, Elfyn
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lock, David
Gibson, Dr Ian McAllion, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McAvoy, Thomas
Godman, Dr Norman A McCabe, Steve
Godsiff, Roger McCafferty, Ms Chris
Golding, Mrs Llin McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Gorrie, Donald McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Macdonald, Calum
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonnell, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McFall, John
Grogan, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hain, Peter McIsaac, Shona
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McNamara, Kevin
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McNulty, Tony
Heal, Mrs Sylvia MacShane, Denis
Healey, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McWalter, Tony
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) McWilliam, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hepburn, Stephen Mallaber, Judy
Heppell, John Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Salter, Martin
Marshall, David (SheWeston) Sanders, Adrian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sarwar, Mohammad
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Sawford, Phil
Martlew, Eric Shaw, Jonathan
Maxton, John Sheerman, Barry
Meale, Alan Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Merron, Gillian Short, Rt Hon Clare
Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Singh, Marsha
Milbum, Rt Hon Alan Skinner, Dennis
Mitchell, Austin Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smith, Sir Robert (WA b'd'ns)
Morley, Elliot Soley, Clive
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Southworth, Ms Helen
Mudie, George Squire, Ms Rachel
Mullin, Chris Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stevenson, George
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Oaten, Mark Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stoate, Dr Howard
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Hara, Eddie Stringer, Graham
Olner, Bill Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Neill, Martin Sutcliffe, Gerry
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Palmer, Dr Nick Temple-Morris, Peter
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pendry, Tom Tipping, Paddy
Perham, Ms Linda Todd, Mark
Pickthall, Colin Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pike, Peter L Touhig, Don
Plaskitt, James Trickett, Jon
Pollard, Kerry Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pond, Chris Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Pope, Greg Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pound, Stephen Tyler, Paul
Powell, Sir Raymond Vaz, Keith
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Vis, Dr Rudi
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wareing, Robert N
Primarolo, Dawn Watts, David
Prosser, Gwyn Webb, Steve
Purchase, Ken Welsh, Andrew
Quinn, Lawrie White, Brian
Rammell, Bill Whitehead, Dr Alan
Rapson, Syd Wicks, Malcolm
Raynsford, Nick Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) (Swansea W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Winnick, David
Rooker, Jeff Wise, Audrey
Rooney, Terry Wood, Mike
Rowlands, Ted Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Roy, Frank Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Ruane, Chris Wyatt, Derek
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Tellers for the Noes:
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Mr. David Hanson and
Ryan, Ms Joan Mr. Keith Hill.

Question accordingly negatived

It being seven and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour

Clauses 1 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to the debate on this Bill. I and my ministerial colleagues have listened carefully to all of them, which were honestly and often eloquently made by hon. Members of all parties. We remain of the view that the joint statement on which the Bill is based represents the best way forward.

11.27 pm
Mr. MacKay

I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State saying that she and her ministerial colleagues will listen very carefully to everything that is being said throughout these debates because we sincerely believe that the three sets of amendments, which would provide the proper failsafes that the Prime Minister promised the people of Northern Ireland, and this House from the Dispatch Box, should be part of the legislation.

I am at least heartened to learn that, on the ITN news at 11 o'clock tonight, the political editor Mr. Michael Brunson, presumably with the help of spin doctors from Downing street—apparently he was speaking from outside Downing street—said that the Government are now indicating that they will move on prisoner releases and will also take into account what my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have said. Whether that is true, I do not know. I hope that it is accurate.

I hope that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who is in the House, have listened because, without our amendments, this Bill is so imperfect as to be irrelevant and there will be no chance of an Executive being set up. I want an inclusive Executive to be set up so that there can be a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland—that is what the people of Northern Ireland want—but we need proper failsafes in legislation. Let us hope that Mr. Michael Brunson is correct and, in fact, the Secretary of State is not yet fully informed of what the Prime Minister is doing. I hope that, in the other place, tomorrow and on Thursday, we will find that the Government have moved. If they have, it will be in everybody's best interests.

11.29 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Hon. Members have spoken with sincerity throughout all stages of our consideration of the Bill and that sincerity has been accepted by all those in the Chamber. The second common factor is that all of us, of whatever party, of whatever tradition and of whatever future we want to have together, do not want arms to remain in private hands.

The substance of the Bill is how, after so many decades and so many recent months of stress and turmoil, to reach the point where the decommissioning of weapons and explosives takes place. However imperfect the Bill may be in the eyes of many, at least it gives us a yardstick by which, in the very near future, real measurement can be made of success. Alternatively, the failure to achieve decommissioning can be fully exposed.

Many have spoken tonight of the lack of trust between the parties in Northern Ireland. That is so, and that is understandable. Many have produced litanies of the deaths, murders and other terrible acts of violence. I remember when we passed a Northern Ireland Bill that in effect, said that, after 30 years of intense violence, we would not be able to switch off violence at midnight on a given day. There is a history of violence within people, and some of it will continue. However, we must not let violence that is organised, approved and authorised by paramilitary organisations continue.

Many members of those organisations will continue to engage in violence as a way of life in terms of drugs, extortion and intimidation, for example. That must not be confused with paramilitary violence aimed at destabilising the state. That is an entirely different concept. We as a society will suffer from the violence of individuals for many years to come. We will have to deal with it as a social issue. I do not want to have to deal with it as a paramilitary issue. That is what the Bill is about.

All but one of the Ulster Unionist parties, including the United Kingdom Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party, are opposed not only to the Bill or to the amendments to it but to the entire concept of the Good Friday agreement. That is fair enough. That is what democracy is about. But democracy has also said—71 per cent. of the north and 93 per cent. of the south—that the Good Friday agreement is the way in which we want to go forward as communities in the north and the south living in harmony together.

There is distrust among us. The best way to test whether there is trust is to introduce a test, and we can do so within weeks. I will not argue whether that should be four weeks or six weeks in the context of our history, but we know that the test must take place within a short term when set against what we have suffered over 30 years and way beyond.

I ask the House, particularly Opposition Members, to join in this last gesture before the test is put. Endorsement of the Bill will reflect the solidarity of the House and will reflect also the solidarity that we want to see in the north of Ireland. That will enable, 48 hours from now, the hunt to be run with some confidence of success.

11.34 pm
Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

The Government Whip told us a few minutes ago that we had considered the Bill. That stretched the imagination because, as the House knows, we have gone only through the motions. There is much in the Bill that has not yet been explored. There has not been time to go through it in the necessary detail. It has long been evident to anyone who lives in Northern Ireland and who knows the situation there that there is no peace at present. In the longer term, it has long been evident that the litmus test of whether the IRA would come in from the cold and be part of the democratic process was weapons. The question of weapons always had the potential—

Mr. Robert McCartney

Illegal weapons.

Mr. Ross

My hon. and learned Friend says "Illegal weapons", and that is what we are always talking about. These are weapons that are held by the terrorist paramilitary organisations. Let us describe them as they are. We are talking of criminal elements that have used weaponry, murder and bombing as means to effect political change. I believe that it was not so much the weapons held by those people that have the potential to wreck the process, as the fact that they intended such an outcome to be an absolute certainty from the day that we embarked on the process.

I have always believed that Sinn Fein-IRA are totally committed to turmoil and instability in Northern Ireland. They want to portray it as a failed political entity. They have made it clear that they do not want the Assembly. They want all-Ireland bodies.

The issue of weapons should not be discussed in the House today. It should have been resolved early in the negotiations, then we would have known where we were going. It is the subject of debate today because of the failure to deal with such a crucial element at the beginning of the process.

The Prime Minister told us that, if those people were kept out, there would be violence. He has not explained to anyone in Northern Ireland or the House how he will deal with violence if they must be put out next year or whenever—provided that they ever get in.

It was evident to those of us who have been in this place for some time that there was never the slightest possibility of the Government accepting any amendments. The Bill has already been agreed with Dublin, with the White House, with the Social Democratic and Labour party and, for all I know, with Mr. Adams. Consequently, there was no chance that it would be amended.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was present when his party leader spoke earlier. He was challenged on the question whether his party would put the gunmen out if they did not surrender weapons—a question that he has always failed to answer. Only one conclusion can be drawn.

The net effect of the Bill is simple. At present, the parties in the Assembly can exclude those who do not live up to the standards that they are supposed to accept. The combination of the Ulster Unionist party and the SDLP could always have kept Sinn Fein-IRA out of office. For that matter, a combination of the Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party could keep them out for up to 12 months at a time, renewable under the provisions of the 1998 legislation.

The Bill shifts the onus to the Disarmament Commission report and to the Secretary of State, who then must act. Under the Bill, those people would be kept out for only a limited period—less than 12 months—after which time they could get back in again.

The debate has been a whitewash exercise. Apart from allowing us to go through the motions and express our views, it has been a wasted day for the House.

11.38 pm
Dr. Palmer

On Second Reading, we discussed in some detail the amendments proposed by the official Opposition and the Ulster Unionists. I said then that the difficulty seemed to be that the central issue of Northern Ireland peace was not weapons—the weapons are a symptom of the central issue, which is trust.

If the politicians in Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland trust each other, the question of weapons will resolve itself. If they do not trust each other, they will need to be made to trust each other through the process, before anyone can feel safe. That is the reason why the assault from hon. Members who oppose the Good Friday agreement is so ambiguous, to put it politely. They say that they disagree with the agreement, yet they criticise the signatories to the agreement for not moving as rapidly as they had hoped.

Let us accept that, if any of us were asked to work together on the basis of threats of violence, we would have the greatest difficulty in doing so. That would be the case regardless of whether we had weapons, whether we had given them up, or whether we had promised to give them up. The threats and the atmosphere of violence are the basic problem of Northern Ireland.

We have allowed the debate to be hijacked by opponents of the Good Friday agreement. There is a good reason why decommissioning was not central to it—the central issue was the creation of trust between the parties. In their campaign against it, the Democratic Unionist party and the United Kingdom Unionists were successful in moving decommissioning to centre stage with the results that we see tonight. Okay, but, as we pass the Bill let us say that this is our best chance. The people of the United Kingdom have asked us to take that chance to try to achieve the peace and the trust that is so badly needed.

Trust has another element—the trust between the British people and the Unionists in Northern Ireland who claim to call themselves loyalists. When they speak of loyalism, we expect a degree of loyalty to the interest of the United Kingdom, and that includes a peaceful settlement. We ask for their support to give the agreement the chance that it deserves.

11.41 pm
Mr. Howard

If what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) has said about the television news is correct—I have no doubt that it is—it is an affront to the House that news of those concessions was given to television and not to the House when it was debating those very matters. Although that is an affront to the House, it is par for the course for the Government.

The amendments, which might have made some sense of the Bill, were rejected. The arrangements contemplated in the Bill are directly contrary to the handwritten promises given by the Prime Minister to the people of Northern Ireland at the time of the Good Friday agreement. He pledged that those who use or threaten violence must be excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland. The Bill's effect will be to include in the Government of Northern Ireland those who use or threaten violence. He promised that prisoners will be kept in unless violence is given up for good. Violence has not been given up for good and the prisoners have not been kept in. I shall vote against Third Reading.

11.42 pm
Mr. Öpik

We have had a full debate and the Government have had the opportunity to consider my brilliant amendments, which will no doubt be implemented through Government action. We have heard more about copper bottoms this evening than the average person hears in a lifetime and we have also left two questions unanswered.

The first question concerns clarity about where the Government stand on the relationship between decommissioning and prisoner releases. I brought up the matter earlier to express my concerns. Although we obviously do not have much information, the Government have to be absolutely clear about where they stand on that central question.

The second and more subtle unanswered question concerns whether there will be a time limit on the review process. If a suspension is called, the review process will present an opportunity for indefinite delay by those on the review panel. Once again, I counsel Ministers to take that concern seriously. If they look through the current specifications of the review process, they will see that it could be stalled because the review period is not defined. I strongly encourage the Secretary of State to think about what action she wants to take on that.

Having said that, we must remember that the Bill is a pathway to peace. The ultimate copper-bottomed guarantee that something must happen is a date—May 2000, by which time decommissioning will or will not have been completed. It is said that, sooner or later, even the best strategy has to degenerate into action. In that sense, the Bill is only a piece of paper. Action has to come from it. There is an old saying that people cannot talk themselves out of a problem that they have behaved themselves into. We have done a lot of talking here in Parliament; the next step clearly will be taken in Northern Ireland itself, where politicians and paramilitaries must take forward what we have discussed today.

I only hope that people are seized of the fact that we have just three days before the Prime Minister's final deadline. I sincerely hope that this one will be kept. More to the point, I sincerely hope that those in Northern Ireland in whose gift it is to deliver peace will take this opportunity to do so, because the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom as a whole will not take kindly to any further vacillation or obstruction of the peace process.

11.45 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) has lectured us about what people think. I am in a position to speak about how people think in Northern Ireland. At the European elections, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) was supposed to top the poll and wipe me from the political scene. I doubled my electoral majority over him, and he did not get his great prize of being first in Europe. Almost 70 per cent. of Unionist people voted against this agreement.

Both Governments told us that the agreement should be supported by a majority of both sections of the community: a majority of the nationalists and a majority of the Unionists. It is clear that the majority of the Unionists do not go along with this agreement. We asked why. It is because they were conned by the Prime Minister when he made them all the promises that have been listed today. As a result of those promises, a wafer-thin majority of Unionists voted for the Good Friday agreement. That has changed. The Secretary of State and her Ministers know that it has changed. They can put all the opinion polls together and help people to make their decisions, but the people have spoken. I was told by the hon. Member for Broxtowe that a recent opinion poll in a Northern Ireland newspaper showed that he was right and we were wrong. That poll showed the very opposite: it showed that we were overwhelmingly right. In its editorial, the newspaper had to admit that those who had opposed the agreement had the people with them.

That being so, the House can continue to set itself against the majority of the majority. Will that bring peace? Will that give confidence to the people? We need a review. [Interruption.] It is all right for the Minister to mutter, but what we need is a proper look at this agreement. It is sad that we were misled by members of the Front-Bench team. We were told that articles 2 and 3 would be proceeded with, but they are not being proceeded with and have been put on a two-year finger by the Dublin Government. They have announced that they will do nothing about articles 2 and 3 for two years.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 is the rock granite of our Province's constitutional position. Will it be taken away? Have we not the right to hold on to that, as people who prize our citizenship of the United Kingdom? Ulster has no debts to pay to the rest of the United Kingdom. It has paid its debts over and over again. [Interruption.] There are Scots men in the House who would also say that they have no debts to pay to the rest of the United Kingdom. As an Ulster man, I say that we have no debts to pay to this United Kingdom.

I was told over and again by the hon. Member for Foyle in Strasbourg that the ceasefire was for ever, and that there would never be another bomb. I met him at a radio station on the day on which this city was bombed. I said, "What did I tell you, John? I said that the bombing would recommence at the will of the godfathers of the IRA."

The bombing will recommence in every part of this United Kingdom when the godfathers decide. Mr. Adams made it clear, in the midst of the ceasefire, that the IRA has not gone away. How could it go away, when he is its leader and its champion?

11.50 pm
Mr. Robathan

We have heard a good deal about failsafes and guarantees on Third Reading and, indeed, throughout the day. In the Bill, I see no failsafes and no guarantees.

Labour Members may ponder on the history of rushed emergency legislation in the House. They may remember the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998, which we all rushed back to pass last September. It was terribly important for that legislation to be rushed through in a single day. Since that time, 10 months ago, seven people have been charged and no one has been convicted. Rushed emergency legislation is generally to be avoided.

We have heard today—from, among others, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer)—that this represents a tremendous chance that must be grasped. According to the Prime Minister, it is the chance of a lifetime. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said earlier, the Prime Minister said that his pledge to the people of Northern Ireland was that those who use or threaten violence must be excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland … prisoners will be kept in unless violence is given up for good. Violence goes on, day in day out, on the streets of Northern Ireland. There are beatings on the streets of Northern Ireland; there are murders on the streets of Northern Ireland. There is intimidation, there are exiles, there is targeting of members of the security forces, day in day out, on the streets of Northern Ireland; yet we continue with this trust. We have to trust the terrorists.

Now we are asked for another leap of faith: another act of trust. We are told by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), "The war is over." He must have chosen those words advisedly. They were the words used by Sinn Fein in, I believe, 1993, when it sent my noble Friend Lord Mayhew—then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—the message, "The war is over." How is it possible to reach such an accommodation? The war was not over in 1993; the IRA retains its weapons. How can the hon. Gentleman use those words? It is not a leap of faith that we are requested to make, but a leap into the dark.

The Secretary of State, with good intentions, says that we must have evidence; but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said, even the dogs on the streets of Northern Ireland know who is responsible for certain acts. Let me ask the Secretary of State this: who is responsible for the murder of Paul Downey? Who is responsible for the murder of Brendan Fegan? Who is responsible for the murder of Eamon Collins, the IRA informer? Who attempted to murder Martin McGartland? Everyone in Northern Ireland knows; everyone in the RUC knows. How is it that the Secretary of State does not know? The Secretary of State is determined that she must have evidence, but we all know who is responsible for those acts.

The Government are the dupes of the paramilitaries, both loyalist and republican—but it is not the loyalist paramilitaries who matter; only IRA-Sinn Fein will be a beneficiary of the Executive places. The Government are the dupes of McLaughlin, Adams and McGuinness, and I fear that that is to the shame of the Government.

The Government must be motivated by good intentions, but are they really concerned with justice, with the rule of law, and with equity in Northern Ireland? They do not seem to be, in the Bill. The Government, and the democratic parties in Northern Ireland, have bent over backward to accommodate the terrorists. Surely there must come a time when there can be no further compromise.

I will give Ministers credit for good intentions; I know that they are well intentioned. They must know, however, that the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

11.54 pm
Mr. Hunter

During the past seven and a half hours, Opposition Members have attempted to expose the Bill's deficiencies. We stand by our arguments.

One other dimension should be mentioned. Some of us oppose the Bill in principle. We oppose in principle the joint statement from which it emanates and the wider circumstances that have given rise to it. Some of us cannot and will not accept that political representatives of terrorist organisations should be offered places in government as an inducement to decommission their illegal arms—

It being eight hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 343, Noes 24.

Division No. 238] [11.55 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Clelland, David
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clwyd, Ann
Ainger, Nick Coaker, Vernon
Ainsworth, Robed (Cov'try NE) Coffey, Ms Ann
Alexander, Douglas Cohen, Harry
Allan, Richard Coleman, Iain
Allen, Graham Colman, Tony
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Connarty, Michael
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Ashton, Joe Corbett, Robin
Atkins, Charlotte Corbyn, Jeremy
Austin, John Corston, Ms Jean
Banks, Tony Cotter, Brian
Barnes, Harry Cousins, Jim
Barron, Kevin Cox, Tom
Battle, John Cranston, Ross
Beard, Nigel Crausby, David
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Begg, Miss Anne Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cummings, John
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bennett, Andrew F Dalyell, Tam
Bermingham, Gerald Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Berry, Roger Darvill, Keith
Best, Harold Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Betts, Clive Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blackman, Liz Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Boateng, Paul Dawson, Hilton
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Dean, Mrs Janet
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dismore, Andrew
Brake, Tom Dobbin, Jim
Breed, Colin Donohoe, Brian H
Brinton, Mrs Helen Doran, Frank
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dowd, Jim
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Browne, Desmond Edwards, Huw
Burden, Richard Efford, Clive
Burnett, John Ellman, Mrs Louise
Butler, Mrs Christine Ennis, Jeff
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Etherington, Bill
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Fisher, Mark
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fitzsimons, Lorna
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Flint, Caroline
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Cann, Jamie Foster, Don (Bath)
Caplin, Ivor Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Casale, Roger Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Caton, Martin Foulkes, George
Cawsey, Ian Fyfe, Maria
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Galloway, George
Chaytor, David Gapes, Mike
Chisholm, Malcolm Gardiner, Barry
Clapham, Michael George, Andrew (St Ives)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Gibson, Dr Ian
Godman, Dr Norman A
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Godsiff, Roger
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Gorrie, Donald McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Macdonald, Calum
Grogan, John McDonnell, John
Hain, Peter McFall, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McGrady, Eddie
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McIsaac, Shona
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Mackinlay, Andrew
Healey, John McNamara, Kevin
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McNulty, Tony
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) MacShane, Denis
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen Mactaggart, Fiona
Heppell, John McWalter, Tony
Hesford, Stephen McWilliam, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mallaber, Judy
Hoey, Kate Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Home Robertson, John Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hood, Jimmy Marshall, David (SheWeston)
Hoon, Geoffrey Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hopkins, Kelvin Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Martlew, Eric
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Maxton, John
Howells, Dr Kim Meale, Alan
Hoyle, Lindsay Merron, Gillian
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hume, John Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hutton, John Mitchell, Austin
Illsley, Eric Moffatt, Laura
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Moonie, Dr Lewis
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Moran, Ms Margaret
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Morley, Elliot
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Mudie, George
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Mullin, Chris
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) O'Hara, Eddie
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Olner, Bill
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald O'Neill, Martin
Keeble, Ms Sally Öpik, Lembit
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Organ, Mrs Diana
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Palmer, Dr Nick
Khabra, Piara S Pearson, Ian
Kidney, David Pendry, Tom
Kilfoyle, Peter Perham, Ms Linda
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Pickthall, Colin
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Pike, Peter L
Kumar, Dr Ashok Plaskitt, James
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Pollard, Kerry
Laxton, Bob
Leslie, Christopher Levitt, Tom Pond, Chris Pope, Greg
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Pound, Stephen
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Powell, Sir Raymond
Linton, Martin Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Uwyd, Elfyn Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Lock, David Primarolo, Dawn
Love, Andrew Prosser, Gwyn
McAllion, John Purchase, Ken
McAvoy, Thomas Quinn, Lawrie
McCabe, Steve Rammell, Bill
McCafferty, Ms Chris Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick Stuart, Ms Gisela
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rooker, Jeff Temple-Morris, Peter
Rooney, Terry Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rowlands, Ted Tipping, Paddy
Roy, Frank Todd, Mark
Ruane, Chris Tonge, Dr Jenny
Ruddock, Joan Touhig, Don
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Trickett, Jon
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ryan, Ms Joan Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Salter, Martin Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Sanders, Adrian Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sarwar, Mohammad Tyler, Paul
Sawford, Phil Vaz, Keith
Sheerman, Barry Vis, Dr Rudi
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wareing, Robert N
Short, Rt Hon Clare Watts, David
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Webb, Steve
Singh, Marsha Welsh, Andrew
Skinner, Dennis White, Brian
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Soley, Clive Winnick, David
Southworth, Ms Helen Wise, Audrey
Squire, Ms Rachel Wood, Mike
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Steinberg, Gerry Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stevenson, George Wyatt, Derek
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul Tellers for the Ayes:
Stoate, Dr Howard Mr. David Hanson and
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Mr. Keith Hill.
Beggs, Roy Robathan, Andrew
Chope, Christopher Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) St Aubyn, Nick
Donaldson, Jeffrey Swayne, Desmond
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Thompson, William
Forsythe, Clifford Townend, John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Wardle, Charles
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Wilkinson, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Wilshire, David
Hunter, Andrew Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
McCartney, Robert (N Down)
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tellers for the Noes:
Maginnis, Ken Mr. William Ross and
Paisley, Rev Ian Rev. Martin Smyth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Mr. Wilshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier this evening—when I believe that you were not in the Chair—the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) correctly drew my attention to a detail that I had got wrong in an amendment that I had tabled. I do not like making such mistakes, and I wanted to be absolutely certain that I was correct when I came to speak to the next motion this evening. Since the motion seeks to extend the powers of the Northern Ireland Act 1974, it seemed sensible to go to the Vote Office to make sure that I had a copy of the Act so that I would not make the same mistake. However, I was told by the Vote Office that no copies of the Act were available. May I therefore ask you how we can consider an interim extension to something to which we cannot refer this evening?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will find that there are copies of that Act, if not in the Vote Office, then in the Lobbies and other places. There are certainly bound copies in the Library and in various other places.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No, I have dealt with that point of order.

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